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New Orleans Saints: 97 seconds away from the NFC Championship game

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"It’s hard when you get that close and all of a sudden, it slips away, that’s difficult. — New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton on playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers."

Close — that my be an understatement to just  how the Saints game against the 49ers played out, but it does seem fitting when summing up the conclusion of the last two seasons.

For the second year in a row the Saints have been eliminated from the playoffs. In 2010 it was the “Shocker in Seattle’, when New Orleans was bounced by the 7-9 Seahawks in the wild card round.

Now it’s the “Candlestick Collapse”, or so it could be called, as the Saints defense couldn’t hold off the 49ers in the waining moments of the fourth quarter after virtually shutting them out the entirety of the game.

All the Saints defense needed to do was hold for 97 seconds.

New Orleans battled back from huge deficits — 17-0, 20-14, 23-17, and 29-24 — to take a 32-29 lead with only 1:37 left in the game.

Victory was nearly assured, just don’t give up a big play.

Well that’s exactly what happened as 49ers tight end Vernon Davis beat free safety Malcolm Jenkins — when the Saints were caught blitzing on second down — for a 47-yard pass play.

Jenkins would eventually run him down out of bounds at the 20-yard line, but the damage had been done.

Two plays later on third and 4 Alex Smith found Davis yet again at the goal line for the game-winning score.

This time it wasn’t Jenkins that was beat, but strong safety Roman Harper.

New Orleans record breaking 13-3 season meant absolutely zero in that moment, and with nine seconds left there was little hope Drew Brees could pull-off of one of his patented come-from-behind wins.

No NFC Championship, no Super Bowl berth. A crushing defeat, a game they had won, gone in the blink of an eye.

The Saints had lost this game, more than the 49ers had won it — 97 seconds.