After losing to the Carolina Panthers a week ago, the San Francisco 49ers kept hearing they needed to make a statement. Analysts and critics from coast to coast were saying that San Francisco was 6-3, but it needed to finally beat one of the NFL’s better teams to prove it still belonged among the league’s elite.
Sunday at the raucous Superdome in New Orleans, that elusive victory was within their reach, but it slipped away, thanks to a fourth-quarter ruling by the officials that swung the game’s momentum to the Saints.
Up 20-14 over the Saints early in the fourth quarter, the Niners offense couldn’t generate enough offense to take the pressure off the defense – which had been terrific – and New Orleans fought back to take a 23-20 victory on Garrett Hartley’s 31-yard field goal on the last play of the game.
The loss drops the 49ers to 6-4, far behind the 10-1 Seahawks in the NFC West, and into a second-place tie in the division with the Arizona Cardinals.
The loss swung the Saints’ way on a crucial call with 3:18 remaining in the game.
With the 49ers still leading 20-17, Saints quarterback Drew Brees was sacked by Ahmad Brooks and fumbled, with the ball recovered by Patrick Willis at the 49ers’ 46-yard line. But officials ruled that Brooks had hit Brees too high, in the head and neck, and flagged the 49ers for a personal foul. The Saints retained possession of the ball, and drove for a Hartley field goal of 42 yards to tie the game at 20-all.
On the 49ers’ ensuing possession, they could do nothing and had to punt the ball away. Brees then drove the Saints from their own 40 to the 49ers’ 13 in five plays, setting up Hartley for his game-winning kick.
Though the San Francisco defense played well Sunday, holding the high-scoring Saints to just two touchdowns -- and making a late stand to force the Saints to settle for a field goal instead of a TD -- the 49ers offense was again anything but dynamic.
The 49ers took advantage of two Saints turnovers to take a 10-7 lead, on an 11-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Anquan Boldin and Phil Dawson’s 55-yard field goal. Another Saints turnover in the third quarter resulted in Kapernick’s 17-yard TD toss to Vernon Davis.
But, with the game there for the taking if the 49ers could generate some offense late in the game to eat up the clock and keep Brees off the field, San Francisco again went flat, as it has in recent weeks. All game, the 49ers were unable to strike downfield and stretch the Saints defense.
The Niners could generate just 196 total net yards and only 12 first downs – compared to 23 first downs and 387 yards of offense by the Saints. Kaepernick was 17-of-31 for just 127 yards, two TDs and an interception. San Francisco could also generate just 81 yards rushing, with Frank Gore held to 48 yards on 13 attempts.
Now desperate for a win, the 49ers will have an extra day to prepare, with their next game on “Monday Night Football” Nov. 25 at the Washingtohn Redskins.