by Hunter Dawkins

Behind a 73,000 plus crowd and several lead changes, the San Francisco 49ers (11-2) scored on the final possession with a 30-yard field goal by kicker Robbie Gould as time expired for a 48-46 victory over the New Orleans Saints (10-3).  In the win, the 49ers grab a closer edge to locking up the top seed in the National Football Conference (NFC) for home field advantage in the playoffs.

“I thought number one, it was the type of game where scoring became (at) a premium and we had a number of errors on offense,” said New Orleans Saints Football Coach Sean Payton.  “Defensively, we struggled. I thought we played poorly on the back end.”

A few controversial plays that were either not called by the referees or those that were, left confusion in this close game.  As an understanding critic of National Football League (NFL) officiating due to last year’s blown no call in the NFC Championship Game, Payton did not say much.  “I don’t want to answer one officiating question today, so I won’t. Sorry.”

Opening the game, New Orleans jumped on the scoreboard with four consecutive touchdowns; including three touchdown passes from future NFL Hall of Fame Saints Quarterback Drew Brees and a fourth down sneak in their final score.  The 49ers countered the scores in four out of their five possessions, taking a halftime lead 28-27 over New Orleans.  The Saints went for a two-point conversion after their second score and failed, which proved to be costly down the stretch.

Despite briefly taking the lead on a forced turnover in the third quarter, the Saints did not stop San Francisco’s offense as the 49ers scored a quick touchdown after grabbing a New Orleans fumble.  Even with New Orleans having two long standing drives, the Saints only put two field goals from kicker Will Lutz on both series.  The score at the end of the third quarter was 35-33 in favor of the 49ers.

On the longest drive of the day, San Francisco scored on a touchdown pass after a fifteen play drive, which burned seven minutes off the game clock and put the 49ers up 42-33.  The Saints stomped back with a quick drive, which ended on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Michael Thomas.  Once Lutz converted the extra point, 6:06 was left in the game and the score 42-40, San Francisco lead.

Following a short field goal by the 49ers to take a 45-40 lead, New Orleans took their first lead since the early second half with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Saints Receiver Tre’Quan Smith.  Needing a two-point conversion to gain a three-point lead, the Saints failed to convert with 53 seconds remaining, making the score 46-45, New Orleans lead.

San Francisco had all three timeouts and the Saints forced them to a fourth down attempt with 39 seconds left.  49ers Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo found receiver Greg Kittle on a short route near midfield and the New Orleans Saints were penalized on a face mask, which put the 49ers in field goal range.  Gould with no time remaining and a San Francisco win 48-46.

“I would say today was just a hard-fought football game all the way around,” said New Orleans Saints Quarterback Brees.  “You have those moments and it really comes down to the last four minutes of the game, what happens and you just want a chance to win this. We had a chance.”

Brees finished with 349 passing yards, five touchdown passing and a rushing touchdown.  New Orleans Receiver Michael Thomas caught 11 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown, and tight end Jared Cook appeared to be on his way to a huge game (two catches for touchdowns of 38 and 26 yards on the Saints’ first two drives) before being sidelined with a concussion he sustained on the second catch.

The NFC South Division Champion New Orleans Saints host their final regular season game against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night at 7pm.