San Francisco • Drew Brees overcame five New Orleans turnovers and a 17-point deficit to put the Saints on the brink of their first road playoff victory in franchise history.
He could only watch as Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers stole it away in the closing seconds, ending the Saints' chances at another Super Bowl run.
Brees capped his record-setting season by throwing for 462 yards and four touchdowns, throwing two go-ahead strikes in the final 5 minutes only to see the 49ers rally for a 36-32 playoff victory Saturday.
"It stings right now because of the expectation level that we had coming into this tournament and understanding that if we win here we're into the NFC championship game and anything can happen," Brees said. "That's tough. Tough to swallow at this point."
Brees threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles to give the Saints (14-4) their first lead of the game with 4:02 to play. He then answered Smith's 28-yard touchdown run with a 66-yard scoring pass to Jimmy Graham with 1:37 to go that had New Orleans close to victory.
But the defense failed to close it out, allowing the 14-yard game-winner from Smith to Vernon Davis with just 9 seconds to go for San Francisco (14-3).
"There is a finality to the playoffs," Brees said. "You go from thinking of the NFC championship to all of a sudden you're going home and there's no more football until next year."
All those passing records Brees set turned out to mean nothing. Brees shattered Dan Marino's 27-year-old mark of 5,084 yards passing by throwing for 5,476. He had 468 completions this season, breaking Peyton Manning's 2010 mark of 450. He finished the season completing 71.6 percent of his passes, breaking his own 2009 NFL record of a 70.6 completion percentage.