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January 16, 2012
Prior to "The Grab" there was "The Block"


The play unfolded so picture-perfectly that Joe Staley said he knew rounding the corner it would be him and one New Orleans Saints safety standing between Alex Smith and the end zone. So clear the way he did, freeing Smith on the quarterback's 28-yard bootleg touchdown run in the fourth quarter Saturday with a precise cut block 20 yards down the field.

And perhaps aware that offensive linemen don't get a lot of attention on highlight reels, the 49ers' left tackle later made sure the play stood out.

"Joe told us in the locker room, 'Wait 'til you see my block on film,'" 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday, two days after the 49ers defeated the Saints, 36-32, to advance to the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants.

"He made sure everybody knows about that block," said right tackle Anthony Davis. "I would, too," Dixon added. "If you ran like Joe ran and sprung a play like that, he deserves that."

Staley said Monday he lauded the block with tongue planted firmly in cheek. But the play -- block included -- was still generating praise among the 49ers for its timeliness and execution. On 3rd and 8 from the Saints' 28-yard line and with 2:18 left in the game, the 49ers lined up with four wide and tight end Vernon Davis to the right of Dixon. The Saints overloaded that side of the line and blitzed off the edge, leaving one safety over the top -- much to the delight of the 49ers' offensive line.

"I was so happy to see the blitz coming my way and see the safety down (the field)," Davis said. "It's a great feeling knowing that that play is coming."

Smith took the snap and sprinted immediately to his left, away from the pressure. Receiver Kyle Williams, who had lined up wide to Smith's left and motioned toward the middle, threw a key block of his own by cracking down hard on Saints defensive end Will Smith. Receiver Michael Crabtree, lined up in the slot, helped seal off the edge as well with a sustained block on a defensive back.

Staley, meanwhile, pulled, sprinted up-field ahead of Smith and threw a cut block near the 10-yard line that sent Saints safety Isa Abdul-Quddus tumbling forward with his heels in the air, allowing Smith to gallop into the end zone untouched.

"It was a tremendous block, the stride, the beauty of the arm action, the leg cycle, the speed," Harbaugh said. "To me it was like barbed wire getting rolled up -- anything in its path kind of just gets collected."

"I kind of rolled and when I rolled I was on the ground and I saw Alex running," Staley said. "I was like, yes, you get that touchdown." The play, Staley said, was "just a great call by (offensive coordinator) Greg Roman in a perfect situation. They had the blitz on that we wanted, and we were able to run away from it."

Somewhat overshadowed was the block thrown by the 5-foot-10, 186-pound Williams, who lowered his shoulder into the Saints' right end Will Smith, listed at 6-foot-3 and 282 pounds. Williams said Monday he didn't see Staley's block on the field but certainly didn't begrudge Staley any attention -- especially after seeing the replay.

"I think his was better," Williams said. "It sprung (Smith) for the touchdown."

-- Matt Kawahara


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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