Saints and 49ers Put On Offensive Thriller in New Orleans
Kyle T. Mosley
San Francisco ascends back to the #1 seed slot after narrowly conquering New Orleans 48-46 in one of the most entertaining NFL games this season. New Orleans squandered a thrilling offensive comeback drive from QB Drew Brees, WR Michael Thomas, and WR Tre’Quan Smith who scored with 53 seconds left in the game. When the Saints needed their future Hall of Fame leader, Brees, to deliver a go-ahead drive, he did. Unfortunately, New Orleans’ secondary failed to support a tremendous effort by Brees and the Saints offense.
Jimmy Garopollo had 39 seconds left in the game. They faced a 4th down and the Niners needed 2 yards to convert, extend the drive, and position themselves closer for a field-goal attempt. However, the Saints could not stop them and TE George Kittle showed why he is one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Kittle was being covered by the Saints DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the flat to the left, Garopollo threw the football, Kittle catches it, Gardner-Johnson falls down, and he rumbles for 39 yards. Saints Strong Safety Marcus Williams failed to get a critical stop at the 50-yard line. Williams battled to bring down Kittle with help from two other Saints players, but they were unsuccessful. To make matters worse for the Saints, Williams was penalized for a face-mask violation and the Forty-Niners were in business. Three plays later, the Niners K Gould kicked a 30-yard field goal to seal the deal. San Francisco defeats New Orleans and control their playoff destiny at #1 in the NFC.
The 49ers capitalized on Saints’ mistakes, but the Saints wasted opportunities on offense and defense. Upon further review, New Orleans will either learn from them or be doomed to repeat those failures going into the playoffs. Drew Brees was hot often and early in the contest. Brees finished the afternoon with 29/40 completions, 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 138.4. He guided the Saints down the field for their second opening drive touchdown of the season to take a 7-0 lead on the Niners. The possession was 9 plays, 73 yards, and 3:26 minutes. Mike Shanahan’s offense was ready to answer. QB Jimmy Garopollo answered Brees with a 6 play, 75 yard drive for a touchdown with 8:31 left in the first-quarter. This was an early tell of how this game would be in New Orleans. Garopollo had a great day and finished with 26/35 receptions, 74.3 % completions, 349 yards, 4 TD's, and a 131.7 QBR.
The Saints would score touchdowns on their next two offensive possessions to increase their lead to 20-7. Head Coach Sean Payton called for an attempted two-point conversation after their second touchdown when Niners DB Ahkello Witherspoon was penalized for Unnecessary Roughness against Saints TE Jared Cook on the play. It was Cook’s second touchdown and his final appearance in the game. He left because of the NFL’s Concussion Protocol rule for assist in players’ safety. It would be a huge blow to New Orleans and their offensive game plan against the 49ers.
Jimmy Garopollo and his squad were bold on this day. They answered New Orleans blow-for-blow. Garopollo avoided a sack, bought time, and passed a 75-yard strike to WR Emmanuel Sanders. The Saints lead was now by 6 points, 20-13. Drew Brees guided a 12 play march down the field to lead 27-14. But, before the half-time bell, San Francisco would score twice. Once for on a trick play with WR Emmanuel Sanders passing for 35 yards to RB Raheem Mostert for a touchdown. Next, Garopollo led a 9 play, 80 drive of his own to gain momentum on the Saints and grab the lead at 28-27 ending the first-half.
After half-time, New Orleans’s LB Craig Robertson intercepted Garopollo off of a tipped ball from WR Sanders. The Saints had excellent field position and an opportunity to turn the game in their favor. They could only gain three yards, K Wil Lutz drilled a 55-yard field-goal, and the Saints led 30-28. The teams traded the next five scores of the game.
One of the key plays was the Alvin Kamara fumble at the New Orleans 20 yard line. It took only 2 plays for Garopollo to run the same pass play, first to the FB Kyle Juszczyk for 15 yards, next to TE George Kittle for a five-yard touchdown reception. Kyle Shanahan was out-smarting the Saints defense most of the day with mis-directions and trickery.
Saints’ Sean Payton was not to be outdone by Shanahan with his own great play-calling ability. The problem most of the day for New Orleans were the missed opportunities and poor defensive techniques mostly by the Saints secondary to help extend drives. Saints CB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was flagged twice on third downs to extend 49er drives. The referees may have missed a holding call on Niners special teams player as he covered WR Tre’Quan Smith on a fake punt pass from QB Taysom Hill. NFL Fox Sports announcer Charles Johnson explained that the NFL did not allow pass interference on fake punts since they do not consider it an offensive play. However, the official did not notice Smith was being held by the San Francisco defender. The Saints could not execute and they turned over the ball on downs and gave the 49ers excellent field position.
Garopollo connected with WR Kendrick Bourne after the Niners offense went 55 yards in 14 plays. The key play was on Saints DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. They flagged him for a helmet-to-helmet penalty on third down against FB Kyle Juszczyk and continued the 49ers’ possession for the score. They led the Saints 44-33, with 9:06 left in the 4th quarter.
Brees’ connected quickly WR Michael Thomas for a 22 pass. The Saints went 5 plays and 75 yards and had 6:12 remaining on the game clock to get a stop and attempt to regain the lead. The score was 42-40 49ers.
Clinging tightly to a two point affair, Garopollo cooly led the Niners on 11 plays and took 3:43 time away from the Saints. K Robbie Gould kicked a 41-yarder to go up 45-40. The problem was they gave Drew Brees back the football. Brees masterfully drove his team into San Francisco territory. With 1:00 minute left, he found WR Tre’Quan Smith for five yards and Smith ran for 13 yards to score the Saints final touchdown. Brees failed to deliver on the two-point conversion. After the 7 play, 76 yard march at home, the Saints would gain the advantage 46-45.
The final blow to New Orleans was allowing Niners TE George Kittle to catch the 4th and 2 pass and carry Saints defenders for 39 yards and face-mask penalty on New Orleans. K Robbie Gould would send the 49ers to the best record in the NFC and #1 seed. The final score, Niners-48, Saints-46.
Sean Payton can look back at the first missed two point conversion early in the game as a mistake. A costly decision that could have made the difference between the final score of the contest. A decision where the #1 seed in the NFC was at stake and could now be lost for the Saints.