Listen Live Now:

49ers land final blow to out-slug Saints in instant regular season classic

© Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports


Have you taken a deep breath? It might be worth doing so. That was the type of game that comes once a season, a la the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams in their 54-51 shootout last year.

This was a pure slugfest between two of the NFL’s great teams and while the 49ers took more than their fair share of gut punches, they always responded.

It was a game which could have easily gotten out of their grasp on two occasions in the first half. But Kyle Shanahan was having none of it. And neither was Jimmy Garoppolo (26-of-35, 349 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT – deflected), Emmanuel Sanders (7 receptions, 157 yards, 1 TD, 1 passing TD, 35 yards), Kendrick Bourne (3 receptions, 18 yards, 2 TD), George Kittle (6 receptions, 67 yards, 1 TD), Deebo Samuel (5 receptions, 76 yards) or Raheem Mostert (10 rushes, 69 yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions, 40 yards, 1 TD).

The back-and-forth between both teams was nothing short of enthralling.

The Saints opened with a nine-play touchdown drive to Jared Cook. The 49ers responded with a six-play touchdown drive, with Garoppolo feeding Kendrick Bourne in the tightest of windows.

Then Drew Brees connected with Cook, yet again, for a touchdown, though Cook was quite literally knocked out of the game by Ahkello Witherspoon. The only failed 49ers drive of the first half followed that, though, and the Saints and Brees scored their third-straight touchdown, this time to tight end Josh Hill.

But Shanahan’s play-calling excellence began to really come into focus on the 49ers’ third drive. It took just one play, on this bomb of a throw by Garoppolo, and run after catch by Sanders, for the 49ers to cut the deficit again to 20-14.

Though, the Saints were equally relentless, with Brees picking up his fourth touchdown of the game on the ensuing drive with a leap over the goal line on fourth down.

At 27-14, it seemed like neither team was destined to slow, and for the most part, that held true.

The 49ers’ fourth drive was longer than the one-play touchdown that preceded it, but not by much. Garoppolo hit Deebo Samuel for 21 yards on one of those patented slants over the middle. It was followed by one of those similarly-patented Raheem Mostert speed rushes, which went for 19 yards. But it was the next play that might define the play-calling perfection in this game: a Sanders touchdown pass to Mostert.

While the Saints had responded on each prior drive, that trend came to an end just before the half. On their penultimate drive of the first half, they were stifled on offense for the first time, punting on a three-and-out.

That punt handed the 49ers an opportunity to take the lead, which they took on their first extended drive of the game. Garoppolo and Mostert moved the ball downfield efficiently, and capped off their first half excellence with another Mostert touchdown, this time on a rush up the middle. It capped off a 28-27 first half which may have been the most entertaining first half in the NFL this season.

The second half opened with a Garoppolo interception, but not one of those typically head-scratching throws. Instead, it was the otherwise reliable Sanders, who saw it deflected off his hands.

But, in continuing the trend to end the first half, the 49ers’ defense held the Saints to a 55-yard field goal, giving them a 30-28 lead. The Saints’ defense responded by forcing the 49ers to a three-and-out, but it was San Francisco’s defensive front that remained pestilent.

D.J. Jones forced Alvin Kamara’s first lost fumble of the season, which DeForest Buckner recovered at the New Orleans’ 20. Two plays later, Garoppolo hit George Kittle for his third touchdown of the game, swinging the score back 35-30.

After another Saints field goal, Bourne came back again with his second touchdown of the game on the longest drive of the game, a 14-play, seven-minute endeavor. It came on what looked like a broken play, until Bourne came free in the middle for a 42-33 lead.

But Brees wasn’t done either. He connected with ole’ reliable, Michael Thomas, for Thomas’ ninth catch and first touchdown of the game to bring the Saints back into the fold at 42-40.

It seemed like the 49ers were about to put the nail in the coffin on the final drive, but this was a game in which neither team was ever truly out of it. Garoppolo and the 49ers went down nine plays to the Saints’ 19-yard line, and on 2nd and 6, with 2:38 remaining, Shanahan drew up maybe his worst play of the game. Rather than running the ball, he drew up a fake handoff, and Garoppolo was sacked for a loss of 11 yards.

Two plays later, Robbie Gould knocked through a 41-yard field goal to force the Saints to need a touchdown to win at 45-40.

Brees and the Saints, with 2:23 remaining and one timeout, had the ball, and a chance to go downfield for a game-winning touchdown. And that they did. With no Jaquiski Tartt, K’Waun Williams and Richard Sherman out (both injured during the game), Brees, with the help of a couple penalties and poor coverage and tackling, connected with Tre’Quan Smith for a touchdown.

A failed two-point conversion left it 46-45.

53 seconds remaining. Three timeouts. The 49ers got the ball back at their own 25.

No problem, right? Not for Kittle. On 4th-and-2, Kittle did everything but win the game, rumbling down the field like a crazy person, all which being held by his facemask.

So Robbie Gould, who’s had a howler of a season, was tasked with ending the game on a 30-yard kick. He was good, but Mitch Wishnowsky, punter and holder, was better. He saved a wretched snap from long snapper and Kyle Nelson and got it down for Gould, who ended the marathon win at 48-46.

 

More from KNBR