There were 123 offensive plays run in Sunday's 49ers-Saints game. San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks felt that the game's outcome was decided on No. 110.
With less than four minutes left and the 49ers clinging to a three-point lead, Brooks sacked Drew Brees and forced a fumble, which the 49ers recovered near midfield. But Brooks was flagged for his high tackle of Drew Brees -- referee Tony Corrente ruled that Brooks had delivered a forceful blow to Brees' neck on what essentially was a clothesline tackle.
Replays were rather inconclusive. Brees' head definitely snapped back when Brooks made his hit, but Brooks' arm looked like it may have landed across Brees' shoulders.
"I felt like I hit him with my chest, like I basically bear-hugged him kind of hard," Brooks said, according to CSNBayArea.com. "I’m going full speed and he [Brees] is going full speed. And at the last second, he ducked his shoulder. So I don’t think I could’ve done anything differently."
The resulting 15-yard penalty returned the football to New Orleans, which then kicked the tying field goal. The Saints came up with a stop on the 49ers' next possession (after Colin Kaepernick narrowly avoided a safety on intentional grounding) and went on to win 23-20, on a last-second field goal.
Because of the eventual outcome, the penalty on Brooks might hold long-lasting ramifications in the NFC. Rather than cement their spot in the conference's top six, the 49ers fell to 6-4, tied with the Cardinals and Bears for the final wild-card spot. They're also now 3.5 games back of NFC West-leading Seattle, a deficit that looks insurmountable.
On the other side, New Orleans received a boost. Had San Francisco kept that turnover and run out the clock, the Saints would have taken their third loss, matching the number second-place Carolina has heading into Monday night.
"It was b.s., man. It was a b.s. call to me," Brooks told The Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows. "That was the game, basically."
More of the best and worst from Sunday's action:
First Down: Bobby Rainey and Rashad Jennings.
The Raiders' Jennings was on the NFL's radar, at least, heading into 2013. Not so much for Rainey.
But it was Rainey, an undrafted prospect in 2012 who's already on his third NFL team, who led the league in rushing for Week 11 (pending Monday's stats). He rolled through the Falcons for 163 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 30 carries, as part of the Buccaneers' second consecutive victory.
Jennings was not all that far behind. In helping the Raiders score a road win in Houston -- a win which moved Oakland within a game of a playoff spot -- Jennings backed rookie starting QB Matt McGloin with a 150-yard effort. The majority of that total came on an 80-yard TD run in the third quarter -- the Raiders took a 28-17 lead there on their way to a 28-23 win.
Fourth Down: Washington before the fourth quarter against Philadelphia.
Washington has been a second-half team all year, but it takes that label to extremes against the Eagles. In the team's first meeting back in Week 1, Washington trailed 33-14 after three quarters, before rallying with 13 unanswered points in the fourth to push Philadelphia to the brink.
History repeated itself Sunday. The Eagles held a commanding 24-0 edge headed into the final stanza, only to watch Washington storm back with a pair of Robert Griffin III touchdown passes and two two-point conversions. The Redskins actually had the ball in Philadelphia's red zone with a chance to tie late, until Griffin fired an interception.
Flip those two game results in the Redskins' favor and they would be 5-5, tied for first in the NFC East.
First Down: Michael Floyd.
Are the Arizona Cardinals a playoff team? They're right in the mix after Week 11, tied for a wild-card spot in the NFC thanks to three straight wins.
Floyd was one of the heroes in their latest triumph, 27-14 over Jacksonville. He tallied a game-high 193 yards -- part of Carson Palmer's first 400-yard passing performance since Week 9 last season, when he played for Oakland -- and hauled in a 91-yard TD, the longest scoring pass play of the NFL season to date. Floyd has emerged as more than a complement to Larry Fitzgerald; he's actually outpacing Fitzgerald by more than 100 yards receiving (657 to 554).
Fourth Down: Geno Smith.
The Jets continued their season-long string of alternating wins and losses, and Smith remained just as consistently inconsistent. He completed only eight passes Sunday but threw three interceptions in a 37-14 loss to Buffalo. That's actually the second straight game in which Smith has been held to eight completions -- he was just 8-of-19 in the Jets' Week 9 upset of New Orleans.
First Down: Denver's offensive line.
Chalk some (maybe most) of this up to Peyton Manning's ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly. But up against a Chiefs defense that entered Week 11 leading the league in sacks, the Broncos coughed up zero. Rarely even did Manning have to move from his comfortable spot in the pocket to adjust his throws, especially in the first three quarters.
The Kansas City defense still held Denver to a season-low 27 points. But without that constant QB pressure, the Chiefs' ability to force turnovers was neutralized -- Denver's lone miscue came on a botched handoff between Manning and Montee Ball.
Kansas City will have to be much better in Week 13, when Manning and the Broncos head to Arrowhead for the rematch.
Fourth Down: The Lions' fake field goal.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz said his team wasn't going to play scared. OK, well, how about a little smarter?
Up four in the rain and wind at Pittsburgh, Schwartz called for a fake field goal from the Steelers' 10 in the fourth quarter Sunday. It failed, Pittsburgh marched 97 yards for a touchdown on its next possession and the Lions never saw the lead again. On the road, in sloppy weather conditions, and with an offense that was suddenly struggling, Schwartz needed the three there.
First Down: David Bass.
Even though their once 10-0 lead had dwindled to 10-3, the Ravens appeared to have navigated Sunday's lengthy weather delay to keep control of their game with Chicago. And then Bass avoided a cut block attempt by Ray Rice, made a leaping interception of a Joe Flacco pass and housed it to tie the game. The Ravens did grab the lead again later in the second quarter, but Bass' play woke up what to that point had been a somewhat lethargic Chicago team.
A tip of the cap to Jason Pierre-Paul, as well. His pick-six dropped the hammer in the Giants' 27-13 win over Green Bay.
Fourth Down: Adrian Peterson's health.
Early in the third quarter, when they were still very much in their game with the Seahawks, the Vikings threw a pass to John Carlson on a 3rd-and-1. The play lost a yard, and if it wasn't obvious before then that Adrian Peterson was less than 100 percent, that call proved it.
"He is not 100 percent. That groin is bothering him," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after the game. "There were a couple of moments when he was so close to breaking it and just couldn’t get that one key ingredient to get it going, but no, he is not 100 percent.”
Peterson needed 21 carries to get to 65 yards rushing -- two fewer than what Toby Gerhart cranked out on seven attempts.
First Down: Everyone in AFC wild-card chase.
Well, everyone except for Houston and Jacksonville. The other 14 teams in the AFC are still very much alive for the postseason, with eight teams either at 5-5 or 4-6 and the Bills at 4-7. The Jets still have a tenuous grasp on the final wild-card spot with their .500 record, but the Dolphins matched them at 5-5 on Sunday.
Oakland, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland and San Diego (in that order, by tiebreakers) all lurk a mere one game back. The last six weeks will be wild in that conference.
Fourth Down: Houston's QB situation.
The Texans trailed 28-17 Sunday when Gary Kubiak made the (very unpopular decision) to pull Case Keenum in favor of former starting QB Matt Schaub. The home crowd was on Schaub ruthlessly from the start, even though his stats (12-of-25 for 155 yards) were not all that far off from Keenum's (13-of-24 for 170 yards, one TD, one INT).
The larger argument, though, is that Keenum might be a part of the Texans' future -- this season is long gone at 2-8 -- Schaub almost certainly is not.
And the booing only made a difficult situation worse. Soon-to-be-free-agent RB Ben Tate, to the Houston Chronicle:
"These fans here in Houston are so up and down and so wishy-washy. I’m just shocked at that because this organization has come a long way. ... I just feel like if you’re a true fan, you stick with the team through the tough times and we’re going through a tough time right now." [si-nfl-player id="ef6def9c956d4329a79e8c7cb6ee000a"]