By Jerrell Richardson
The rollercoaster of a ride also known as the 49er season took another direction Sunday. After their loss a week ago against the Rams, they bounced back in a big way against a very good New Orleans Saints team. San Francisco was able to grab the early momentum and saw the Saints fight back and eventually send the game into overtime, before securing the win. The only really disappointment was the special teams, as the offense and defense both played well in a very hostile road test. As it does in most NFL contests it came down to which team made the more plays late, and it was the road team that made more, resulting in a dramatic 27-24 win for San Francisco.
Finally, the 49ers got back to the run, and it worked wonders for the entire offense. Frank Gore set the tone early with a touchdown run on the team’s first possession and forced the play calling to remain balanced. As a team San Francisco had 32 rushing attempts which has not been the norm as of late. Gore finished the day with 81 rushing yards and a touchdown, and was once again the team’s workhorse. There were only 5 rushes by a back not named Gore, as the teams all-time leading rusher played so well that the coaches couldn’t take him out. Carlos Hyde saw some action in overtime, but the teams 144 rushing yards were due in a large part to number 21.
With the running game clicking, it allowed Colin Kaepernick the time to scan the field, which was not the case the past two week. However, Kaepernick numbers don’t wow you, as the running game was the star this game. The 49ers quarterback didn’t have the best fantasy football week with just 210 passing yards and a touchdown, but outside of one fumble, Kaepernick played an efficient game. His numbers would have been far better too if not for all the flat out drops by the usually sure handed Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Even with his drops, Boldin still had another big game, hauling in 6 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.
More balance from the receiving core would be preferred, but Boldin was open all day, and Michael Crabtree, Brandon Lloyd and Stevie Johnson are all still capable receivers when targeted, despite the multiple drops this week.
Mark Ingram broke the 100-yard mark, but to hold the Saints to 24 points in overtime is impressive. Without Patrick Willis and Dan Skuta the defense again played well, against one of the best quarterback’s in the league and finally got enough from the offense. Drew Brees made two huge mistakes, throwing an interception on the team’s first possession of the game and last possession of the first half, but was otherwise masterful. He completed 28 of 47 attempts for 292 yards and 3 touchdowns, finding 8 different receivers during the game.
Coming into the game, the 49ers knew that the Saints were going to throw the ball to Jimmy Graham. The New Orleans tight end was his usual self catching 10 balls for 76 yards and 2 touchdowns. San Francisco did a good job though making Brees force him the ball and at least made it difficult for him to get open. When Graham was covered, it was Brandin Cook that made the plays with a 90 yard receiving day.
Linebacker Chris Borland once again led the team with 17 tackles and did his best to fill in for Patrick Willis. Antoine Bethea continues to be the team’s best overall defensive player, finishing with 8 tackles and an interception. The team failed to record a sack in regulation, but essentially won the game with back to back sacks in overtime. They gave up their fair share of yards and points, but when you consider who was on the field for the 49ers, and who and where they played this game, the defense again played outstanding.
Special Teams: B
Andy Lee had an erratic day, but seemed to regain his big foot late in the game and finished with a good day. He was called into action 7 times and averaged 44.7 yards per punt. Phil Dawson was called on late and hit the game tying kick to send it into overtime as well as the game winner. The latter wasn’t pretty, but it counts all the same. A concern with Dawson is his kickoffs though. While he kept the ball in bounds, he wasn’t exactly booming his kicks, and saw 4 of his kicks returned. None really cost the team field position, and even worked in their favor a few times, but in a dome, it’s not a great sign that Dawson wasn’t consistently forcing touchbacks in a dome.
49ers Won A Must Win Game
Many viewed this game as a must win and easily the most important game the 49ers had this season. It also came against a Saints team at home that made this week a very difficult test. San Francisco did not cure everything in this one win, but gave themselves something to build on, and allowed them to stay squarely in contention for a playoff berth. The 49ers had plenty of reasons to give up late and still found a way to beat a first place team. With all things considered, this game was San Francisco most impressive as a team and should allow everyone in San Francisco to put away the panic button, at least for now.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.