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Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers Beat Drew Brees, Saints on Walk-Off Robbie Gould FG

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2019

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, right, celebrates his touchdown pass with offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey in the first half an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

All season long, the San Francisco 49ers have faced doubts about their ability to win a shootout.   

Jimmy Garoppolo and Co. proved the doubters wrong Sunday, spearheading a game-winning drive that ended in a Robbie Gould field goal as time expired to give the 49ers a 48-46 win over the New Orleans Saints.

San Francisco 49ers @49ers

GOULD. GAME. WINNER. https://t.co/JBa6ZhuqNm

The battle between two of the NFL's premier defenses proved to be an all-out shootout, with the two sides marching down the field with ease. The 49ers accounted for 516 total yards and marched 63 yards in 53 seconds on their final drive, highlighted by a 39-yard reception from George Kittle on a 4th-and-2.

The 49ers trailed 20-7 in the first half but roared back with an explosive 21-point second quarter to go into halftime ahead 28-27. 

Garoppolo, maligned as a caretaker for most of this season, had arguably his best game of the year. He thrashed the Saints secondary with a series of well-thrown intermediate passes that turned into big gains, and coach Kyle Shanahan out-schemed Sean Payton on the opposite sideline.

The 49ers now control the race for the NFC's No. 1 seed. They trail the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West via their head-to-head tiebreaker, but the teams meet up again in what's essentially a divisional championship game in Week 17. 

The Saints have already clinched the NFC South but have work remaining to clinch a first-round bye. 

        

Notable Stats

49ers

QB Jimmy Garoppolo: 26-of-35, 349 YDS, 4 TD, 1 INT

RB Raheem Mostert: 10 CAR, 69 YDS, 1 TD (2 REC, 40 YDS, 1 TD)

WR Emmanuel Sanders: 7 REC, 157 YDS, 1 TD

WR: Deebo Samuel: 5 REC, 76 YDS

TE George Kittle: 6 REC, 67 YDS, 1 TD

        

Saints

QB Drew Brees: 29-of-40, 349 YDS, 5 TD

RB Alvin Kamara: 13 CAR, 25 YDS (4 REC, 18 YDS)

RB Latavius Murray: 7 CAR, 69 YDS

WR Michael Thomas: 11 REC, 134 YDS, 1 TD

TE Jared Cook: 2 REC, 64 YDS, 2 TD

         

Kyle Shanahan Might Be NFL's Best Coach (Non-Belichick Division)

What a masterclass in offensive play-calling. Credit is due to Garoppolo for silencing his doubters with every fling of his right arm and to Kittle for being a human battering ram, but Shanahan proved his team could do what few thought it could coming into this week: go score for score against an elite offense.

Shanahan brought out a playoff level of tricks from his bag, including an Emmanuel Sanders reverse pass for a touchdown and an incredible fullback option in Saints territory that nearly ended in a Raheem Mostert score. This isn't a one-week thing, either; the 49ers have consistently adjusted their game plan to opponent tendencies and managed to be one of the league's highest-scoring teams despite having few truly elite offensive players.

San Francisco 49ers @49ers

Kyle Shanahan: 🎩 #SFvsNO https://t.co/BO6Ix5b583

San Francisco 49ers @49ers

🤯@ESanders_10 to @RMos_8Ball 🏄‍♂️ #GoNiners #SFvsNO https://t.co/3AzpuJVbPE

Garoppolo has taken the brunt of the criticism throughout the season, often fairly. He's been both intermittently too careful with the ball and at the same time reckless. His 11 interceptions this season are higher than you'd expect for a quarterback in this system.

Aside from a lone pick early in the second half Sunday (which wasn't his fault), he was flawless. Balls were well placed to allow receivers plenty of room to run, he avoided forcing balls to Marshon Lattimore's side of the field and picked on Eli Apple for most of the first half. 

The term "franchise quarterback" is vastly overused given the lack of talent at the position around the NFL. Garoppolo is good enough of a quarterback to win a Super Bowl, particularly with the man on the sidelines calling the plays.

             

Let's Never Count Out Drew Brees Again

PFF @PFF

Drew Brees with a DIME to Michael Thomas 🎯 #SFvsNO (via @NFL) https://t.co/tMC136JtXm

Remember those murmurs a month ago about whether the Saints would be better off with Teddy Bridgewater as their starter?

No disrespect to Teddy, but let's not ever have that discussion again.

Brees has thrown for 12 touchdowns against one interception over his last four games and did every single thing in his power to ensure all four of those contests would be victories. This was as close to a Brees Classic performance as you can get—down to the Saints defense failing him after he gave them a one-score lead late in the fourth quarter.

Let's put this performance in context. Brees threw for 349 yards and five touchdowns. The 49ers came into Sunday allowing an average of 134.3 passing yards per game to opposing quarterbacks. They had allowed 12 passing touchdowns through as many games.

Brees threw for 2.6 games' worth of passing yards and increased their passing touchdowns allowed by 42 percent. 

The 40-year-old will be a free agent when his contract voids after this season. If he wants to return for 2020 and beyond, the Saints have no choice: They have to allow Bridgewater to sign elsewhere as a free agent and re-up with the best player in franchise history.

There is a fascinating game of potential quarterback musical chairs to be played this offseason with Brees, Bridgewater, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Jameis Winston and others potentially being on the move. Brees proved Sunday why the Saints shouldn't think for a second about moving on.