For the second game in a row, the 49ers offense failed to score with less than two minutes in regulation and the game on the line.
After losing 10-9 last week against the Panthers on an interception, the 49ers lost 23-20 at New Orleans on Sunday in what was a back-and-forth battle from the start.
Veteran cornerback Carlos Rogers said:
“We put ourself in a bad situation, just have to battle to try to make the playoffs.”
The Saints struck first on a three-yard pass from Drew Brees to Josh Hill making it 7-0 with 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
The 49ers struck back when Bubba Ventrone recovered a fumble following a Lance Moore muffed punt. Colin Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin then hooked up on an 11-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7.
New Orleans responded quickly when Corey White intercepted a Kaepernick pass intended for Mario Manningham, but he fumbled the ball into the end zone on the return with Kaepernick in pursuit resulting in a touchback and 49ers ball.
Kap and Co. capitalized on the gift when Phil Dawson hit a 55-yard field goal giving the 49ers a 10-7 lead, but on the ensuing kick off Travaris Cadet returned the ball 82 yards which led to a Jed Collins touchdown to make it 14-10 at halftime.
Early in the third quarter Ahmad Brooks picked off Brees in Saints territory and the 49ers offense turned into six points when Kaepernick hit Vernon Davis for a 17-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 17-14 lead.
Dawson tacked on a 29-yarder to extend the lead to 20-14 early in the fourth, but Brees then marched the Saints downfield on a nine-play, 77-yard drive that Garrett Hartley capped with a 21-yard chip shot, cutting the lead to three.
Rob Ryan’s defense then got a big stop on 3rd-and-9 when Kaepernick’s intended pass for Jon Baldwin sailed incomplete with 6:55 left in the game.
On the next drive, a high hit by Brooks on Brees drew a 15-yard penalty. Brees had fumbled the ball away on the hit, but the penalty nullified the fumble, putting the Saints in range for Hartley to connect on a 42-yarder that tied the game at 20-20.
Kaepernick took over with 2:06 left, but was sacked then pressured into throwing the ball away on back-to-back downs.
On 3rd-and-19 Kaepernick scrambled for 16 yards to give Andy Lee breathing room, but on the ensuing punt Kassim Osgood ran into Darren Sproles after a fair catch signal moving the ball up to the Saints 40 with 1:41 remaining.
Brees then drove the Saints into position for a 31-yard game winner by Hartley. Brees commented on the win post-game:
“A great team win all-around. That kick at the end was huge.”
The 49ers totaled just 81 rushing yards and Kaepernick was 17-of-31 for 127 yards and two touchdowns.The White interception was huge, though the Osgood and Brooks penalties were also costly.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh spoke to the media about where the 49ers go from here:
“We keep fighting. It’s a tough loss. Keep playing hard, playing fast, playing tough.”
San Francisco drops to 6-4 while New Orleans improves to 8-2. The 49ers are on the road again next week at Washington.
Tarell Brown left the game with a rib contusion and Mike Iupati hurt his left leg. … San Francisco’s last loss in the Superdome was to the Ravens in the Super Bowl last February. … The 49ers are tied in second place in NFC West with Arizona.