If Sunday’s matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints is any indication of what a potential NFC title game could be, many fans of football will be salivating after a 48-46 shootout in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that was capped off by a game-winning field goal from veteran kicker Robbie Gould. With the victory, it puts the 49ers one step closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.
How It Happened
The Saints came out of the gates strong with a nine-play drive that saw Brees connect with tight end Jared Cook on a 38-yard touchdown pass to take an early lead. That didn’t last long though with the 49ers marching down the field with several chunk plays, including a 31-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders on a 1st-and-15 to put San Francisco deep in New Orleans territory. Garoppolo finished off the drive with a short pass to Kendrick Bourne to tie things up.
After those two opening drives, the tone was set that it was going to be a shootout between two of the best offenses in the league and Deonte Harris made a statement on the ensuing kickoff with a 51-yard return that set the Saints up at their own 46. Six plays later, Brees found his star tight end yet again with a 26-yard pass in the endzone to take a 13-7 lead. However, it wasn’t all positive as Cook was injured on a helmet-to-helmet collision. It got a little worse as New Orleans failed to convert the two-point attempt on a Taysom Hill run.
After the Saints defense shut down the potent Niners offense, Harris shined yet again on special teams with a nice 25-yard return that put Drew Brees and crew deep in Niner territory late the first quarter. New Orleans took advantage of the short field when Brees found Josh Hill in the endzone for his third touchdown of the afternoon.
It didn’t take long for the 49ers to respond though with Garoppolo torching the Saints secondary on a deep ball to Sanders for a 75-yard touchdown, making it 20-14. New Orleans tried to slow down the game after the quick touchdown by the Niners and put together a methodical 12-play drive that ate up 7:14. It looked like the San Francisco defense was going to hold the Saints down to zero points on the drive, but Brees pulled out his signature and 4th and goal leap over the line to make it 27-14 with 7:31 left until half.
The 49ers got a little fancy on their next drive that lasted only three plays and saw Sanders connect with Raheem Mostert on a deep ball to once again chip away at the lead. After forcing a three-and-out, the Niners offense put together a nine-play drive that was capped off by a 10-yard run by Mostert, giving them their first lead all game and took a one-point lead into the locker room.
The Saints defense was torched for much of the first half but came up with a huge play when Craig Robertson picked off Garoppolo, giving the Saints a short field to work with. The Saints offense was held down on that drive though, settling for a 55-yard field goal from Wil Lutz to go up 30-28. Later in the third quarter, Alvin Kamara coughed up the football and set up a five-yard touchdown pass to George Kittle, giving San Francisco a 35-30 lead. The Saints responded with a methodical 10-play drive that was derailed by an incomplete pass intended for Michael Thomas which resulted in a 48-yard field goal from Lutz.
The Niners put together a methodical drive of their own late in the third quarter, marching down the field for almost seven minutes when Garoppolo found Bourne on a short pass to take a 42-33 lead. New Orleans started to turn it around and made it a two-point ballgame when Brees found an open Thomas for a 21-yard touchdown pass, but Robbie Gould put a 41-yard field goal through the uprights to make it a five-point ballgame with 2:28 left in regulation.
With the two-minute warning drawing near, Brees went into his bag of tricks and executed another solid crunch time drive, ending with a nice touchdown to Tre’Quan Smith to make it 46-45. The Saints needed a two-point conversion to force the Niners to score a touchdown to win or a field goal to tie, but a pass intended for Smith fell short, giving Garoppolo a chance to have a statement win. It looked like the Saints were going to shut down the 49ers, but the complexion of the game changed on 4th and 2 when Garoppolo found Kittle on a short pass and the former Iowa Hawkeye showed off his strength, going for 31 yards after the catch despite Marcus Williams being on him. 15 more yards were added onto the play due to a blatant facemask by Williams and that set up Gould for a game-winning 30-yard field goal.
Big Number: 516
The biggest number is something that defensive coordinator will be keying on in the final three games of the season and that’s 516 yards of total offense for the Niners. That number is something that the coaching staff is sick to their stomach of looking at.
Player of the Game: Emmanuel Sanders
Sanders was like a man possessed against the New Orleans Saints, putting up 157 yards receiving off of seven receptions, and had one receiving and one passing touchdown in the Niners victory.
Next Up: December 16th vs Indianapolis Colts; Kickoff at 7:15