What could have been one of the greatest games of Alex Smith's career with the San Francisco was all for not. He outplayed Drew Brees and if not for mistakes again by Jimmy Raye and Mike Singletary the 49ers would have come out on top over the defending champions the New Orleans Saints, but instead it's a 25-22 loss.
The first quarter was a gift to the Saints as on the third play from scrimmage David Baas the center hiked the ball 10 feet over Smith's head for a safety. With the win in San Francisco it didn't do very well for punter Andy Lee and the Saints got excellent field position and immediately marched down the field for a touchdown.
So, the Saints immediately came out with a 9-0 lead on the 49ers and it didn't look good for the 49ers and it looked like a repeat of last week against the Seattle Seahawks, but those thoughts were short lived. The defense though for the 49ers came out to play it was reminiscent of the game against the Minnesota Vikings last year.
Drew Brees was not comfortable in the wind and his throw sailed wide of his receivers and the 49ers defense held the Saints to three and outs or even if the Saints got a first down the defense was still able to hold forcing the Saints to punt.
The only thing the defense was not able to do was force a turnover and that becomes key later on in the game.
In the second quarter the 49ers offense did a complete turn around as the 49ers established Frank Gore and he didn't disappoint especially in the red zone. Gore was used three times and on his third catch he went 12 yards for the first touchdown for the 49ers making the game 9-7.
Smith led the 49ers on another drive down the field and it looked like the 49ers were going to at least get a field goal out of the drive as the 49ers were inside the redzone, but Delanie Walker didn't protect the football and was stripped.
Luckily for the 49ers it was only a minute left before the half and the Saints weren't able to drive down the field, so at halftime the 49ers were trailing 9-7.
In the third quarter the defensive play was kept up and the biggest play was made by Patrick Willis who sacked Drew Brees forcing a third and 17 that the Saints were unable to convert, so again the defense held and the Saints punted.
The first possession of the second half for the 49ers was excellent as it took only six plays to go 86 yards. The key plays was a 32 yard pass to Michael Crabtree and a 41 yard pass to Vernon Davis. As the 49ers got in the redzone quickly Gore was used and got the 49ers to the two yard line and in came Anthony Dixon. His only carry of the game and his first of the season resulted in his first career touchdown.
With this score it put the 49ers up 14-9 and it seemed like the momentum was going to be in the 49ers favor especially on a night when Jerry Rice was honored, but the Saints took the momentum right back and marched down the field for a touchdown and regained the lead 16-14.
For the 49ers there wasn't much success on the next drive as a delay of game penalty hurt the 49ers on any chance of sustaining the drive. If there was no penalty the 49ers would have gotten a first down, but instead had to punt.
Andy Lee a Pro-Bowl punter made a mistake and put too much air under the ball allowing Reggie Bush to be able to return the punt and he did for 45 yards, Lee was involved on the tackle. With the excellent field position the 49ers defense had to stand strong.
Which, is exactly what the defense did and held the Saints to a field goal by Garrett Hartley.
The next drive looked great by the 49ers as another excellent drive was being formed. One of the best plays on the drive was a third and one play where Dixon was used as a decoy for the short yardage play and instead Smith looked for Davis who was matched up on Roman Harper.
Smith's pass was slightly under thrown, but Harper interfered with Davis and as a result it was a 29 yard penalty on third and one. What got the drive going was Gore and it was shocking to see the very next play be a pass as Gore was finding a lot of success running the football.
Unfortunately for Smith he had a wide open receiver but the ball was tipped and picked off ruining the chance for the 49ers to score points. Another mistake in playcalling by Jimmy Raye.
That interception seemed like a turning point for the Saints as if a touchdown was scored the game was over, but again the defense came up big and the Saints punted yet again. Like the Saints the 49ers couldn't get anything going and were forced to punt.
As Bush was set to receive the punt and because of the wind it made it difficult to catch the ball and Bush fumbled. Ahmad Brooks was watching the play unfold but was too faraway to make the recovery because if the 49ers came up with the ball it would have given them a great opportunity to score.
Yet, Bush recovered the fumble but on the play he was rolled up on and could not make it off the field under his own power. The Saints though were not able to move the football against the 49ers defense and again forced to punt.
Mike Singletary can be blamed for this one in a big situation in a critical time in the game a rookie was out fielding the punt and that was Philip Adams. Instead of letting the ball bounce and go out of bounds he attempted to field the ball, but was not able and fumbled the ball away. Courtney Roby alertly dove on the ball and recovered the fumble.
With the Saints up 19-14 and because of the fumble recovery it looked like Brees was going to end the game right there especially after the first pass got the Saints a first down and just four yards for the touchdown.
Pierre Thomas got the first carry and went three yards. Thomas again was used but was stopped in the backfield short of the goal line. The biggest play of the night at the time was made by Willis after the 49ers took a timeout to make sure the defense was ready, the Saints went with Heath Evans the fullback, but he was not able to get in as Willis made a huge play to trip Evans up before crossing the goal line again Singletary had to use a timeout and meant the 49ers had none remaining as one was used earlier in the half because the 49ers nearly had too many men on the field.
Instead of going it on fourth and one because the Saints were only up five and meant that a touchdown could win the game the Saints kicked a field goal to go up eight, 22-14.
With 2:12 left Smith arguably made his best drive in a 49er uniform and should shut any of his doubters up. The first play of the drive was a pass to Vernon Davis for 16 yards. This play led up to the two minute warning.
After the two minute warning Smith went to work he felt the pressure from the Saints and instead of throwing the ball away he ran with it getting by Will Smith and got 12 yards for another 49ers first down. The very next play was a pass to Josh Morgan and Smith did an excellent job of finding him towards the sideline and Morgan did a great job of keeping his two feet in bounds.
All this happened very quickly and the 49ers had plenty of time. There was still 1:47 left when Smith was not able to hit Davis with a pass. Smith though came right back found Gore as an outlet receiver who raced 18 yards and ran out of bounds.
Smith again used his legs for a first down running for 12 yards again this got the 49ers to the nine yard line. A three yard pass to Dominique Ziegler who ran out of bounds meant the 49ers were six yards away from a touchdown with one minute and 26 seconds left. An inside handoff to Gore for a touchdown capped the drive, but the 49ers still needed a two point conversion to tie the game up.
The play for the two point conversion was five wide receivers and no running backs and Smith was in the shotgun formation. Smith quickly found Davis for the two point conversion or was it? It was ruled immediately no good, but since it was inside of two minutes in the fourth quarter it went up to the booth for review.
It was extremely close, but Davis did catch the ball on the goal line which meant that the two point conversion was good. Now the score was tied at 22-22, but the problem was the 49ers gave the Saints a lot of time to Brees.
Withe the game tied the 49ers played prevent so the little check down passes got the Saints a good chunk of yards because the return by Roby was to the 30 yard line. Thomas caught a pass for eight yards and then another pass for 14 yards.
At 43 seconds the Saints took their second timeout. On the first play after the timeout Reggie Smith nearly intercepted Brees! On the next play though Brees found Marques Colston matched up on Dashon Goldson and Colston won that battle with a 30 yard reception.
The next pass by Brees was incomplete a four yard pass to Jeremy Shockey for four yards. The Saints then let the clock trickle down to two seconds before taking their last timeout. So, Hartley had a 32 yard field goal attempt to win the game.
But, wait the Saints false started moving the field goal to 37 yards into the wind. Hartley made the field goal as time expired and the end result was a 25-22 loss.
Notes on the game:
There was a point in the game where Smith completed 11 passes in a row, which tied the best in his career, it ended as Smith was rolling out couldn't find anyone and threw the ball away. The bad news was he could have run with the ball and picked up yards.
Willis had an outstanding game including a huge hit on Bush and the big third down play in the fourth quarter.
R. Smith on defense made some big plays for the defense especially knocking balls away and if he had come up with the pick on Brees it would have been huge.
Manny Lawson nearly had an interception on a pass attended for Dave Thomas.
Gore is back!
49ers should utilize Dixon on short yardage plays as well.
Crabtree had a nice block on a screen pass to free Morgan, but only had one catch. As the season progresses Crabtree needs to be utilized more.
Finally the 49ers played like a team that will make the playoffs, this loss will be a motivational tool for the rest of the season.