The San Francisco 49ers defeated the New Orleans Saints 48-46 on Sunday in the best game of the NFL season thus far.
The win came with the help of a fourth-down conversion from tight end George Kittle, who broke past the first-down marker and down the sideline for a huge gain with just seconds left in the game.
It took three 49ers defenders to take Kittle down, with one grabbing at his face mask to add additional penalty yards to the already sizable gain.
After the game, Kittle said he didn't mind the face mask because it meant his team was in a position to win.
The San Francisco 49ers defeated the New Orleans Saints in a 48-46 shootout on Sunday, with both teams trading heart-stopping drives late in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 45-40 with just over two minutes left in the game, Drew Brees did what he does best, marching the Saints 76 yards down the field in only 90 seconds before connecting with Tre'Quan Smith for the go-ahead touchdown.
New Orleans would fail their two-point conversion attempt, leaving the 49ers with 53 seconds to drive for a potential game-winning field goal.
At first, it looked as though the Saints defense would hold, forcing the 49ers into a fourth-and-two from their 33-yard line with the game hanging in the balance.
But on the biggest play of their season thus far, Jimmy Garoppolo connected with tight end George Kittle, who broke past the first-down marker and crashed down the sideline for a 39-yard gain. It would take three 49ers defenders to eventually bring him to the ground, with safety Marcus Williams catching Kittle in the face mask to add penalty yards to the 49ers already huge gain.
When the dust settled, the 49ers were set to snap from the Saints 14-yard line. One rush and a kneel-down later, San Francisco brought out kicker Robbie Gould, who split the uprights as the clock hit zero to give the 49ers their biggest road win of the year.
As Kittle told Peter King of NBC Sports after the game, the play was drawn up specifically for him, giving him the option to break inside or outside depending on how the defense followed the first two receivers off the line. Kittle broke outside, gaining the first down and refusing to go down until three Saints and a face mask forced him to the ground.
Kittle's rough-and-tumble play was the deciding moment of the back-and-forth match, and after the game, the star tight end said he was pleased when he realized he had drawn a penalty.
"I knew he'd get flagged for it, so I was actually happy—it just meant 15 more yards for us,'' Kittle told King of the game-deciding penalty. Asked what was running through his mind as he was dragged to the ground, Kittle told King, "Get as many yards as I can, and hold onto the damn football."
Kittle's teammates appreciated his heroic effort. "Most people would go down and complain to the refs about the facemask," said cornerback Richard Sherman. "He was like, 'I'm going to bully you all the way to the end zone or until you stop me.' We don't win the game without that play."
With the win, the 49ers retook the top spot in the NFC West, jumping them from the fifth spot in the NFC playoff picture to first. They are now in a position to earn home-field advantage throughout the postseason should they win their final three games of the year.