SAN FRANCISCO There was a certain amount of confidence, said Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, when it appeared the outcome of Saturday's divisional playoff game had come to rest on the arm of quarterback Drew Brees.
With 2:07 remaining, the Saints took over at their own 12-yard line, down 29-24 to the 49ers.
"We've done it time and time again in close games with just a little bit of time on the clock," Graham said. "You give Drew the ball late in the game like that, you know he's going to drive down the field."
And he did. Brees led a four-play, 88-yard drive in 34 seconds that ended with a throw over the middle to Graham, who snagged it out of the air and ran for a 66-yard touchdown.
The Saints' sideline was ecstatic. Brees was in position to be the hero.
And then he wasn't.
The 49ers' touchdown with nine seconds left marked the final dip in a roller coaster of an afternoon for the Saints that left the visitors' locker room draped in a heavy silence after their 36-32 loss.
The Saints pulled ahead twice in the fourth quarter on touchdown drives of 79 and 88 yards, only to lose the lead both times.
"I think we got too excited (after Graham's touchdown)," Saints running back Darren Sproles said. "We didn't think (the 49ers) could score like that, but they did. They proved all of us wrong."
Brees attempted 63 passes, completing 40 for 462 yards and four touchdowns. He completed 10 of 13 passes on the Saints' two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
Unable to move the ball effectively on the ground against the 49ers' top-ranked rushing defense, the Saints nearly abandoned the run altogether in the final quarter. Brees later said he had thought entering the game that the Saints would get most of their yards through the air anyway.
"I think we felt like, in order to really get chunks, we would have to throw it," Brees said. "We did have some big plays in the passing game, but turnovers obviously way too many turnovers. Obviously that's a great defense."
The Saints hurt themselves with five turnovers, including two interceptions by Brees, who had thrown just 14 interceptions during the regular season.
It was a memorable season for Brees, who threw for 5,476 yards in breaking the season record for passing yards set by Dan Marino in 1984.
The curtain, Brees said, fell sooner than he expected.
"You saw all of the pieces come together, and we felt like we were playing some of our best football as the year went on," Brees said. "I think we all bought in, everybody together, feeling like this was our opportunity, this was our year."