The NFL has plenty of fans, but if the league ever feels the need to make a recruiting push, it can simply throw the last two playoff games on a DVD and start FedExing.

Less than six days after giving us Tim Tebow’s classic victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on wild-card Sunday, we were spoiled by another instant classic today. After beating Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers and Drew Brees’ Saints, Tim Tebow and Alex Smith — two of the most heavily criticized first-round picks in NFL history — have embedded themselves into our playoff memories for the rest of our lives.

That might seem dramatic, but if you’re a football fan, you won’t forget either game.

I’m having trouble finding words for what went down at Candlestick this afternoon/evening. I can’t explain how…

  • Despite their super-conservative offense, the Niners gave up 32 points and still won.
  • We had four lead changes in the final four minutes, including three touchdowns in the final two minutes and 18 seconds.
  • Two teams that combined to convert only nine third downs managed to put up 68 points.
  • The Saints nearly became only the second team in NFL playoff history to win despite losing the turnover battle by four.
  • The 49ers won despite giving Frank Gore only 13 carries.

There was just so much to this game. Both pass rushes were phenomenal. Both teams were great in coverage (for at least three and a half quarters) and turnovers were obviously prevalent.

The Saints almost certainly would have won if not for a slew of first-half mistakes. But had the 49ers lost they would have rued their inability to capitalize on the Saints’ mistakes. They also would have kicked themselves for questionable clock management and a painful too-many-men penalty in the dramatic final minutes.

New Orleans had to fend without Pierre Thomas for much of the game. But they’ve got a lot of running backs, all of whom had trouble finding space against San Fran. The Niners didn’t have their starting center for a solid chunk of the afternoon.

My point is that both teams had myriad excuses to lose this game. Ultimately, the San Francisco defense was better and Smith made big-time throws when it mattered. They might not have won this game had it been played in the Bayou, but that’s why the 49ers worked so hard to maintain the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

They earned their berth in the NFC championship game. And in the process, a usually mundane team found a way to entertain the hell out of us.