The San Francisco 49ers (6-4) lost on the road to the New Orleans Saints (8-2) 20-23 in a game that came down to a field goal. Saints’ kicker Garrett Hartley put through three field goals in regulation, including a 31-yarder with three seconds left on the game clock. Hartley probably kicked aside any speculation of his team finding a replacement kicker for at least another week; Hartley missed four of his last six field goals before tonight.
The Niners’ defense was put to work when Drew Brees got the ball with 6:48 in the fourth down 17-20. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks sacked Brees on third down on the 49ers 45-yard line with 3:18 left in the game, but refs threw a flag for a 15-yard personal foul, tackling the quarterback by the neck area. Although Coach Harbaugh argued this play, it was apparent by the replays that it was a dangerous tackle as Brees was wrapped up by the neck. This penalty allowed Hartley to kick a 41-yard field goal to tie the game 20-20 a few plays later.
The 49ers went three and out the next series giving the ball back to Brees with less than two minutes remaining, but not before giving another 15 yards to the Saints. Darren Sproles called for a fair catch, but 49ers special teams player Kassmin Osgood tackled Sproles by the legs resulting in a 15-yard penalty. Instead of forcing the Saints to drive about 45 yards for a long field goal attempt, the field was shortened.
Brees kept moving the chains, something the 49ers failed to do their last offensive possession. This set up the game winning 31-yard field goal by Hartley.
The 49ers and Saints faced off only once during the regular season this year, but it’s not far-fetched these teams might meet in the playoffs. That is if the 49ers can avoid these mental mistakes late in the game. It’s unlikely the Seattle Seahawks (10-1) will lose their spot atop the NFC West, so the 49ers will have to fight for a wild card. The Niners’ loss tonight puts them in a even wild card race with the Arizona Cardinals (6-4), Chicago Bears (6-4) and Carolina Panthers (6-3) who play the New England Patriots (7-2) tomorrow night. It’s too early to predict, but every game from here on out is crucial for San Fran when the Seahawks are three games up in the division.