What we learned in 49ers' mistake-filled loss to Saints originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Few teams in the NFL were scuffling as badly as the 49ers and their injury-ravaged roster.
The New Orleans Saints came in on a hot streak with five consecutive victories. Yet, the 49ers had their chances on Sunday.
They had plenty of chances, in fact. But a bad play or two -- or nine -- here; a bad call there; and the 49ers did not make the Saints pay the price. The 49ers lost their third consecutive game, falling to the Saints 27-13 in front of approximately 6,000 fans at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Now, the 49ers (4-6) head into their much-needed bye week with very little room for error for the remainder of the season. The 49ers have to turn it around quickly or they will be watching playoff football from their couches.
San Francisco returns to action at the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 29 in what amounts to a must-win game. The 49ers hope for the returns of some of their key players, including running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and cornerback Richard Sherman.
But, first, here are three things you need to know about the 49ers’ loss to the Saints:
Unable to take advantage of openings
The 49ers were down just seven points at halftime, and the Saints did not have future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees available for the second half due to a ribs injury. San Francisco had a direct path to pulling off the upset victory after Jameis Winston took over as New Orleans’ quarterback in the second half. But the 49ers could not take advantage.
One of the big minuses for the 49ers was their inability to get anything going with their ground game. Jerick McKinnon and the offensive line were swallowed up against the active Saints defense.
McKinnon had no room to run. He managed just 33 yards on 18 rushing attempts. The 49ers could not avoid negative-yardage plays, when all they needed was to remain in manageable second- and third-down situations.
Rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw had his best game, as he registered 1.5 sacks. But every time the 49ers did something good, they followed it up with a play that stopped any momentum.
Bad plays, bad calls all over the place
The 49ers thoroughly dominated the first half against the Saints. But that was not how it looked on the scoreboard. And that’s the only thing that matters.
San Francisco had a chance to go up by two touchdowns in the first quarter when Marcell Harris recovered a muffed punt from Saints return man Deonte Harris. But the 49ers settled for a field goal and a 10-0 lead.
Then, the 49ers made a couple of blunders on special teams.
They gave up a 75-yard kickoff return to Harris to set up the Saints for a field goal.
In the second quarter, 49ers special-teamer Ken Webster found himself too close to a punt that Trent Taylor let land. The ball hit Webster and the Saints recovered.
Two plays later, the 49ers defense made a big play when Kentavius Street sacked Brees for an 8-yard loss (the play on which Brees was injured). But Street’s first career sack was nullified when referee Brad Rogers called roughing the passer for Street landing on top of Brees.It was a questionable call, at best, because Street appeared to turn his body to avoid landing on Brees with his full body weight.
The play was pivotal, and led to Alvin Kamara’s 1-yard touchdown run just three plays later.
The Saints tacked on a touchdown at the end of the first half to go into halftime with a 17-10 lead after Jerick McKinnon got stuffed for a 2-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 from the New Orleans 41.
The 49ers made one error after another after another. Their fate was sealed in the fourth quarter when Jimmie Ward failed to hold onto a would-be interception against Winston, then Richie James muffed a punt to result in another turnover.
Mullens comes out converting, then sputters
It took the 49ers less than a half-quarter to double the offensive output that Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed against the Saints over the course of an entire game in Week 9.
Mullens made his second consecutive start and his fourth of the season in place of Jimmy Garoppolo. He started the game hot, completing six of seven pass attempts for 47 yards, as the 49ers picked up a couple of third downs on a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
Mullens hit rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk on a 4-yard touchdown pass to cap a drive that lasted 7 minutes, 17 seconds. It was a good start for the 49ers against a defense that bottled up the Buccaneers last week en route to a 38-3 victory.
Mullens completed 24 of 38 passes for 247 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was removed in the fourth quarter on a third-and-21 play because C.J. Beathard has the stronger arm. But Beathard underthrew a deep ball to Richie James.
Then, Mullens returned to the field for the 49ers’ next series.