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Masoud: 49ers strike gold in thrilling NFL playoffs (Jan. 19)

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ringing in the New Year conjures up familiar memories for all of us. VH1′s Top 100 One-Hit Wonders, midnight kisses and National Hangover Day come to mind.

So do the playoffs. (Playoffs? Don’t talk about — playoffs?).

We’re two rounds in with two to go, but the NFL playoffs have already produced several memorable moments in 2012 and promise to deliver more.

After a series of letdowns and forgettable matchups, Wild Card Weekend finally captured our attention with a wild finish between the Broncos and Steelers. Tebowmania reached its climax at Mile High, as Tim Tebow “pulled the trigger” à la John Elway and drove the Broncos to a thrilling overtime victory.

The natural finally found a rhythm through the air, throwing for 316 yards and two scores. I think Brady Quinn’s chances at a starting gig in Denver are all but over.

Last weekend, the return of the 49ers to glory (I’m totally unbiased here) neared fruition, as No.1-pick-turned-bust-turned-comeback quarterback Alex Smith led the Red and Gold to a come-from-behind victory over the previously unstoppable Saints. Smith did it with his legs and his arm, scoring twice in the final minutes of the fourth to send the Saints packing.

Is there a stadium that has seen more unforgettable playoff moments than Candlestick Park? I doubt it. In fact, there isn’t.

Joe Montana rolling to his right to find a leaping Dwight Clark in the corner of the north end zone in the 1981 NFC title game is forever known as The Catch, launching a dynasty that lasted two decades.

Steve Young fighting to stay on his feet before launching a strike to Terrell Owens with three seconds remaining to give the 49ers their first postseason victory over the Packers has been dubbed The Catch II.

The 2002 NFC Wild Card game between the 49ers and Giants saw the G-men take a 24-point lead into the third quarter, until Jeff Garcia and Owens led a furious comeback, the secon

d greatest in postseason history.

And finally last weekend, Smith channeled the great quarterbacks of old, delivering a frozen rope to Vernon Davis in tight coverage and giving life to a franchise mired in mediocrity. A teary-eyed Davis embracing de facto Coach of the Year Jim Harbaugh was icing on the cake. I vote for The Catch III.

The 49ers will soon break ground on a new stadium in Santa Clara, but the history of The Stick will never be forgotten.

Finally, the heavily favored Packers fell to the Giants in spectacular fashion, and it could have been worse. Poor officiating kept two Packers drives alive, preventing an even bigger blowout on the scoreboard. Eli Manning shredded the Packers defense, and the front seven pressured Aaron Rodgers, who still delivered an accurate football to receivers with heavy hands.

And we still have three games to go.

That’s the beauty of the NFL playoff system. Memorable moments are created in each leg of the journey to the Super Bowl, and home-field advantage is an actual advantage. With the exception of the Packers, the home team has won every playoff game this season, creating an incentive to perform during the regular season.

Unlike the playoffs in the NBA, which never seem to end, or the MLB, which are here and gone, the NFL does it right again. From handling the players’ lockout, to playoff scheduling, home-field advantage and Tebowmania, the NFL has been just about perfect this year.

If the previous four-and-a-half months are any indication, ESPN will explode when a rematch of the Harbaugh Bowl pits San Francisco, exiled from the playoffs for a decade, and Baltimore, exiled from the Irsay family and the Colts, for the championship.

I can’t wait for the poetic justice.