49ers vs. Saints: Did San Francisco just save its season?
By EVAN BUDROVICH
College Contributor Network
San Francisco's showdown with New Orleans on Sunday had everything -- even the officials were blown away by the number of late-game replays that went into deciding this awesome matchup of NFC powers desperate not to lose ground.
On the Saints' second possession of overtime, Ahmad Brooks came storming off the edge, aided by good pass coverage on the back hit, and propelled the arm of Drew Brees forward, forcing a mad scrum for the football. The outside linebacker who was given a questionable targeting call to the same quarterback in last year's meeting exacted his revenge. The man who ultimately saved the day, however, was rookie linebacker Chris Borland.
The 77th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, who was thought to have been a steal at that spot in the draft, came storming back into the scrum and clamped down on the loose football that was mishandled about four other times.
It was not the cleanest kick from Phil Dawson, but the savvy veteran guided the football between the posts giving the 49ers new life in a 27-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints, the first win in the Superdome since December 2012.
How did this madness ensue? Well, the pacemaker really started pumping during the 4th quarter. The San Francisco 49ers got the football back, trailing 24-21 with 1:46 to play, trying to salvage a season filled with high expectations but disappointing results.
After jumping out to an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter, playing a brand of football fans in the Bay Area have come to idolize over the years, the Niners lost their edge and needed a spark to stay alive.
Down to their last life, especially in the crowded NFC West, Colin Kaepernick went wild. On a fourth-and-ten, backed inside their own 25-yard-line with just 94 seconds left, the mobile gunslinger scrambled right, avoided the rush and found an opening. His go-to target Michael Crabtree, who just dropped a very catchable pass the play before, was uncovered 50 yards downfield and waved his hands for the rock. This coming one week after Kaepernick fumbled at the goal line in a last-second loss to the St. Louis Rams.
The bullet pass went flying into the air, a throw across the body we might add, and rifled through the defense for a huge completion. What a relief, but then again, the Niners went zero-for-three passing later that drive, setting up a game-tying field goal that left plenty of time on the clock for a last-second loss.
Had enough time to catch your breath? We're just getting started.
As the game was closing, Perrish Cox pulled out an Academy Award performance (although Jimmy Graham certainly did push off) flopping to the ground for an offensive pass interference penalty. It was a weird ending because everyone turned their eyes right towards the officials. No Graham touchdown, more high-speed adrenaline for our hearts to handle with a tie-game in the Superdome.
But what else would you expect? Jim Harbaugh was still in utter shock on the sideline flipping his scorecard into the heavens. The coach rumored to be leaving town after the season got another chance, but that picturesque moment summed up an entire afternoon of drastic emotion.
'Sudden Death' overtime begins, which means all normalcy goes out the window.
The 49ers go with heads, but as the legend says "tails never fails," which proves why the Saints actually won the coin toss. The last time these two teams went into overtime Joe Montana and Archie Manning were going toe-to-toe on the gridiron. Fast forward 25 years and the high-octane Saints along with the injury-depleted, yet still hungry, 49ers put the closing touches on one fantastic football rivalry.
As ESPN Stats & Information pointed out before the game, only 13 percent of teams since 1990 to start with a 4-5 record have qualified for the playoffs. So naturally, the first possession of overtime was nuts.
The Saints had a third-and-short to get into field goal range. But coming in a flash from the middle, rookie linebacker Peter Borland, who replaced the All-Pro tandem NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, knocked the ball free for a crucial incompletion. Drew Brees was on the money in the fourth quarter, but the All-Pro quarterback couldn't find the one dart he needed to keep the chains moving.
After converting on multiple fourth downs earlier in the fourth quarter, the Saints decided to call a timeout to "ice the defense" -- and then punted. Wait what, they actually punted? The coach who went balls-to-the-wall converting two fourth-down conversions left the door open for his adversary.
Here we go again. After struggling to move the ball for two quarters, the 49ers finally went back to their bread and butter of running the football. Almost as a coming-of-age move, the legs of Carlos Hyde pushed the Niners towards midfield. Then faced with a third-and-10, as their quarterback was one for his last eight passing (that one being a 51-yard bomb), Kaepernick was dropped in the backfield for a sack.
Catching the theme here, the 49ers and Saints were firing haymakers back and forth long before Phil Dawson delivered the knockout blow of a sideways 35-yard field goal with 5:14 left in overtime.
To our delight, or the ever-balding scalps of both Jim Harbaugh and Sean Payton, this particular football game was quite maddening. Hit the reset button as the fight for playoff contention will continue to amp up each and every week, which will certainly involve plenty of heart-stopping moments.
Evan Budrovich is a senior at the University of Southern California. He has a passion for the 49ers, Dodgers baseball and USC athletics. Follow him on Twitter: @evanbud