METAIRIE, La. — With a skosh more than nine seconds remaining in the NFC divisional playoff game between New Orleans and San Francisco, Roman Harper met Vernon Davis at the goal line, crashing into each other as hard as any other collision that cool January day.
Davis held on, Harper remained on the ground dazed and the 49ers put away the Saints, knocking New Orleans out of the playoffs.
And, yet, that’s not what makes the 6-foot-3, 250-pound tight end hard to deal with, Harper said.
“All the tight ends are big and physical now but he’s fast and athletic and can really stretch the field,” Harper said. “He’s definitely a physical guy. He doesn’t shy away from blocking. He does a good job in all different areas. He’s a good player.”
Davis finished with 180 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches in that game. On that game-winning drive, Davis caught a 47-yard pass to put the 49ers in great position at the Saints’ 20 with just 31 seconds to play and his 14-yard touchdown catch solidified his epic day.
“I was in a zone during the time,” Davis said this week on a conference call with New Orleans media. “I never played in that atmosphere before, so I just let it all out to take advantage of my opportunities.”
The Saints (5-5) will get another shot at stopping Davis and the 49ers (7-2-1) on Sunday when they host San Francisco at 3:25 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Since 2009, Davis has 31 touchdown catches, second-most in that period. In 98 games with the 49ers, he has caught 339 passes for 4,290 yards and 40 touchdowns.
This season, he’s second on his team with 487 receiving yards and 35 receptions. His five touchdown receptions are tied for most on the San Francisco roster.
Until the Atlanta game two weeks ago, New Orleans hadn’t had a tight end totally deflate it. But Tony Gonzalez finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns. Davis will be the most athletic tight end the Saints have seen since and one of the most difficult to cover this season.
“He’s one of those elite tight ends in this league,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “He can run, he can get vertical and he’s just like a wide receiver when they get him the ball, so he’s going to make some plays. You’ve just got to limit the amount of YAC that he gets, limit the deep ball and keep him in front of you.”
Jenkins would know. In last year’s playoff game, the Saints had him in coverage on Davis. And he said he learned not only how fast Davis is, but how if you’re not in perfect position covering him, the tight end will make the defender pay.
“You know, one play I have good coverage and they throw a good ball and put it away from where I can’t get it and he’s in stride and it’s a good play (for San Francisco),” Jenkins said.
Davis earned a game ball for his six catch, 83-yard night against Chicago on Monday night. He has had three games with at least 70 yards receiving and has caught a touchdown pass in four games this season.
Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt, who also is the team’s linebackers coach, waxed poetic this week about what Davis brings to the field and why he’s so difficult to cover.
“I think he’s really a wide receiver playing tight end at 60 pounds heavier than Marques Colston,” Vitt said. “He is a 4.4 guy, he’s got great hands, he can drop his weight and come out of routes, he is doing a good job now of reading coverages, the quarterbacks that are in that system right now have great confidence in him.”