In Week 14 of the NFL season, we had a battle between two of the NFC’s best teams, and we sure got our money’s worth. The San Francisco 49ers traveled to New Orleans and left with a huge 48-46 win over the Saints. In a game that was supposed to be somewhat of a defensive battle, there was no defense to be found. This is apparent from both the 94 total points scored and 981 total yards in the game.
Drew Brees and the troops started out on fire, taking a respectable 20-7 lead early in the second quarter. On Brees’s second touchdown of the game, Jared Cook took a huge hit to the head in the end zone. Although he came up with his second touchdown grab, he suffered a concussion and was ruled out for the remainder of the contest. On the conversion attempt, Sean Payton elected to go for two instead of taking the easy one. The conversion failed, and the decision came back to hurt him at the end of the game.
The first half ended with two scores from Raheem Mostert, including a reception on a pass thrown by Emmanuel Sanders, as the Niners had a 28-27 lead going into the second half.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 8, 2019
The Saints came into this game extremely shorthanded at the linebacker position, as starters Kiko Alonso and A.J. Klein were both sidelined, causing the Saints to start reserve linebackers, Craig Robertson and Stephone Anthony. As luck would have it, Robertson was in the right place at the right time. To begin the second half, Jimmy Garoppolo targeted Sanders, but the ball bounced off of his hands and landed right into Robertson’s breadbasket.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 8, 2019
The turnover was desperately needed, as the Saints’ defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed in the first half. Despite coming away with an opportunistic turnover, the drive ended abruptly with a 55-yard field goal from Wil Lutz.
The third quarter ended with a touchdown reception from George Kittle and a 48-yard field goal from Wil Lutz. After touchdown drives from each side, the 49ers drove down the field and kicked a 41-yard field goal to put them ahead, 45-40, with 2:23 left in the game.
For many quarterbacks, leading a team to a game-winning drive against arguably the best defense in the NFL might be an extremely difficult task. Luckily for the Saints, Drew Brees was the man leading the charge. The active leader in fourth-quarter, game-winning drives in NFL history sliced through the 49ers’ defense with ease. With 53 seconds left, Brees connected with Tre’Quan Smith shy of the goal line, but Smith broke multiple tackles, willing his way into the end zone for the go-ahead 18-yard score. The Saints would fail on the two-point conversion attempt once again, resulting in slim a 46-45 lead.
With the Saints’ first big stop of the game in sight, the 49ers were up against their possible final down of the game. With 39 seconds remaining and facing fourth down and two yards to go, the 49ers drew up a perfect play: get the ball in the hands of their best player. Garoppolo connected with George Kittle, who rumbled on for 39 yards, and the Saints added 15 extra yards on the play due to a facemask penalty, completely silencing the rowdy Superdome crowd.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 8, 2019
The 49ers chewed the clock and Robbie Gould hit a 30-yard field goal to take home a 48-46 win as time expired.
As expected based on the final score, both quarterbacks put up incredible numbers. Jimmy Garoppolo went 26-for-35 with 349 yards, along with four touchdowns and one interception while being sacked thrice. On the other side, Drew Brees went 29-for-40 with 349 yards, along with five touchdowns and no interceptions or sacks.
On the receiving end, Emmanuel Sanders had his best game in a 49ers uniform, catching seven passes for 157 yards and touchdown. This was not all for Sanders, though. As mentioned earlier, he tossed a 35-yard touchdown in the contest, as well. Michael Thomas continued his historic receiving pace, catching 11 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. Thomas now has 121 catches for 1,424 yards and leads all NFL wide receivers by 28 receptions and 212 yards. It is noteworthy that Jared Cook went down with an injury early in the second quarter, as he had two catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns before he left the contest. This hurt the Saints’ offense, as Cook is the Saints’ main secondary weapon in the passing game.
On the ground, the 49ers rushed for 162 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts, headlined by Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida slicing through the Saints’ previously stingy run defense with ease. The Saints rushed for 116 yards on 27 attempts, with Latavius Murray leading the charge with 69 yards. Alvin Kamara struggled to get anything going on the ground, as has been the case in recent games. He rushed for 25 yards on 13 carries and caught four passes for 18 yards. The Saints will need to find a way to get him going if they plan on making a deep playoff run.
Many are wondering why Sean Payton elected to go for a two-point conversion after their second touchdown. A big component in making this decision came when the 49ers were called for an unnecessary roughness penalty on Cook’s touchdown grab, the blow to Cook’s head that knocked him out of the game with a concussion. This moved the try from the two-yard line to the one-yard line. Drew Brees explained the Saints’ thinking after the game, saying, “Those are difference makers. If you just look at the statistics if you’re going from the two-yard line versus going from the one-yard line it’s a big difference.” While the Saints’ loss cannot be solely pinned on this decision, it was surely a big mistake, as the Saints would have had a three-point lead going into the 49ers’ final drive had they kicked extra points after each score.
Nothing more can be said about this game other than wow. In a matchup of two of the NFC’s top teams, fans got one of the most exciting games of the NFL season. Surely, NFL fans would love to see a rematch of this game with a chance to go to the Super Bowl on the line.
What’s next for the Saints?
The 10-3 Saints get a home matchup against the Colts (6-7) on Monday Night Football in Week 15 and end the season on the road in Tennessee (8-5) and Carolina (5-8). The Saints are now the third seed in the NFC behind the 49ers and Packers. The No. 1 seed is still attainable, but they will need some help in order to lock it up.
What’s next for the 49ers?
The 11-2 49ers will get two home matchups in the coming weeks against the Falcons (4-9) and Rams (8-5) before finishing the season on the road in a huge matchup in Seattle (10-3). Due to Seattle’s loss to the Rams, the 49ers now hold the top seed in the NFC and control their own destiny. Their Week 17 matchup in Seattle will be a fun one, with huge playoff seeding implications on the line.