49ers Beat Saints in Game of the Year to Take Control of Their Own NFC Destiny

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterDecember 9, 2019

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 08: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the third quarter in the game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on December 08, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It was gorgeous. It was bonkers. It was soul churning. It was the game of the season.

It was 49ers 48, Saints 46, heart palpitations 1 billion.    

There were five lead changes and 94 total points. It was the highest-scoring game in 77 all-time matchups between these two teams. The 55 points and 581 yards in the first half were the most by two NFL teams since 2014. This was an entire fantasy football season in one game.

It was also one of the biggest regular-season wins in the history of the 49ers franchise, and that's saying something considering that history includes Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. With a win in hand on the Saints and Packers, the 49ers control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, which could come down to their Week 17 matchup against the Seahawks.

There were the usual Drew Brees heroics late in the game. There were Jimmy Garoppolo heroics all throughout the game. Garoppolo had 349 passing yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Brees had 349 passing yards and five scores. They put on an all-time-great quarterback clinic.

We won't know the true impact of this game for years, maybe. If the 49ers win the Super Bowl and Garoppolo raises the Lombardi Trophy, it will trace back to this. It could eventually be seen as the start of a dynasty. And for Brees and the Saints, who knows how many of these are left in them.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 08: Drew Brees #9 talks with head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints prior to the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Mercedes Benz Superdome on December 08, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Gr
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

But back, for now, to this nugget of a game.

It featured brilliant coaching from Sean Payton and beautiful trickery from Kyle Shanahan. 

There was the elegant dominance of 49ers tight end George Kittle, who caught a 39-yard pass on 4th-and-2 to put the 49ers in field-goal range with 28 seconds left. The game-winner was Robbie Gould's 30-yarder.

There was also the speed and physical dominance of 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, who at times absolutely wrecked the Saints.

There was so much happening in the game—the wildest contest of the year, full of spectacular coaching, plays and overall sexiness—even something that occurred during halftime was eye-opening. It involved one of the stars of the game, 49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Early in the second quarter, Sanders caught a 75-yard touchdown. Then midway through the same quarter, Garoppolo handed the ball to receiver Deebo Samuel, running a reverse, and then Samuel tossed it off to Sanders, who stepped back and threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to running back Raheem Mostert.

San Francisco 49ers @49ers

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

At halftime, the 49ers posted the Sanders pass, and Sanders or someone acting on his behalf liked the post. LikeGate is far from a crime, but it is against NFL rules, which state that a player, or anyone representing the player, can't update social media accounts during games.

That's how remarkable this game was. Someone was so excited about what was happening, they were breaking NFL rules to like a post as the game unfolded.

It's difficult to say which team is the best in football, but after this, the 49ers can lay a respectable claim. And the Saints aren't far off.

One of many things that makes this win so impressive for the 49ers is how they kept fighting. They trailed 20-7 early in the second quarter and then 27-14 with seven minutes left in the first half.

They never seemed down or doomed. San Francisco actually took a 28-27 lead with 42 seconds left in the half following a 10-yard Mostert touchdown run and the extra point.

The Saints would throw a punch, and the 49ers would counter. The Saints would dip, move and counter with a hook, and San Francisco would do the same.

More scores, more plays, more excitement. There was Kittle's five-yard touchdown to give San Francisco a 35-30 lead. There was the Saints cutting the lead to 42-40 after Brees connected with Michael Thomas for a 21-yard score. Thomas had 11 catches for 134 yards and a score. Kittle had six catches for 67 yards and a score.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 08: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrate after scoring a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of a game at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on December 08, 2019 in New Orleans, Loui
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

There was a Gould field goal (45-40 49ers), another Brees touchdown pass and a missed two-point conversion to make it 46-45 Saints. Then came San Francisco's seven-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Gould's 30-yard kick.

And all of this in New Orleans, one of the most intimidating places in the league to play, but no problem for a 49ers team that continues to show its mental strength. All of this with two of the game's stellar defenses on the field, at times completely helpless against supercharged offenses.

This game was splendid, crazed and beautiful.

And do you know what the fun part of this is?

We could see it all over again in the NFC title game.

Lucky us.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.