Two of the top teams in the NFC squared off in front of a raucous crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, Dec. 8. with the No. 1 seed hanging in the balance. The San Francisco 49ers (11-2) improved their chances at landing the top seed in the NFC with a nail-biting 48-46 win over the New Orleans Saints (10-3).
The 49ers entered the game ranked second in the NFL in rush yards this season, while the Saints entered the game ranked third overall in opponent rush yards per game. But it was the quarterback play of Jimmy Garoppolo that ignited the 49ers offense. Garoppolo completed 26-of-35 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns. Wideout Emmanuel Sanders hauled in seven catches for 147 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown reception. Raheem Mostert led the rushing attack for San Francisco, toting the ball 10 times for 66 yards.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 29-of-40 passes for 349 yards and five touchdowns. It looked like Brees had led the Brees on the 51st fourth quarter comeback of his career when he hit receiver Tre’Quan Smith with an 18-yard touchdown pass with a minute, 30 seconds to play.
But Garoppolo hit tight end George Kittle with a 39-yard pass play, 36 yards after the initial contact, that was capped off by a 14-yard face-mask penalty, setting up the game winning 30-yard field goal by kicker Robbie Gould as time expired.
“We kind of played it a man underneath – safety high defense,” said Saints head coach Sean Payton on the Kittle reception at the end. “They got into a good bunch set and he was able to uncover it. So I’m sure when we watch this tape, there are going to be a handful of things where if you play it back over again, you try to make sure a guy liike him (Kittle) doesn’t beat you.”
The Saints controlled the time of possession 31:23 to 28:37 but the 49ers outgained them 516 yards to 465. It was the first time in league history that a game ended with a 48-46 score.
“This was like a heavyweight boxing match,” said Brees. “Just trading punches. It really comes down to the last four minutes of the game and you just want a chance to win. We had a chance to win, but so did they, and they were the one’s who came out on top today.”
Brees moved into second place all-time in passing touchdowns with 537. Brees needs just two passing touchdowns to tie Peyton Manning (539) for most all time.
Brees found tight end Jared Cook for the first two Saints scores on the afternoon. Cook who tallied 64 receiving yards in the first quarter, left the game with a concussion following his second receiving touchdown and did not return. New Orleans also lost defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins (ankle) Marcus Davenport, and Trey Hendrickson in the second half. Hendrickson returned to action, but Rankins and Davenport did not.
The Saints host the Indianapolis Colts on “Monday Night Football” on Dec.16, at 7:15 p.m. central on ESPN.
The 49ers host the Falcons next Sunday at 3:25 p.m.