There was nothing easy about the 49ers’ trip to New Orleans Sunday.
The 49ers offense sputtered late once again as a plethora of drops from receivers threatened to derail a crucial game. The 49ers defense faltered by giving up a late score while failing to have an answer for TE Jimmy Graham.
Knowing that a dip beneath .500 this late could be season ending, Kaepernick scrapped together a crucial 51-yard pass to Michael Crabtree on 4th-and-10 to lead to a game-tying Dawson kick with 49 seconds left.
The defense came up big in overtime with a big third down stop and the even bigger fumble recovery. And they left New Orleans with not only a win, but a renewed sense of faith toward a troubling season.
San Francisco returned to their patented brand of smash mouth football as Colin Kaepernick threw for 210 yards and one touchdown. Easy drops dirtied his completion percentage, as he connected on just 14-of-32 passes.
More important was the resurgence of the 49ers’ run game, as Frank Gore rushed for 81 yards on 23 attempts while netting the first rushing touchdown for San Francisco since Week 3.
Brees completed 28-of-47 passes for 292 yards while tossing three touchdowns and two interceptions in a losing effort.
Antoine Bethea‘s fourth interception of the season allowed veteran back Gore to get all three touches on San Francisco’s ensuing drive before striding into the end zone on a 4-yard run for the first 49ers’ rushing touchdown since Week 3.
Rookie Carlos Hyde got his turn next, as the Ohio State product danced his way into the end zone on a 9-yard pitch for a 14-0 lead.
New Orleans settled for a 40-yard field goal to close the gap before WR Chris Cook continued a big day with a 31-yard touchdown to pull New Orleans to 14-10.
Boldin pulled in all three passes thrown his way for 48 yards, culminating with an impressive 15-yard touchdown with Lewis draped over him as he streaked towards the corner of the end zone for a 21-10 lead.
After trading turnovers to close the second half, the Saints opted for a run-heavy approach spearheaded by RB Mark Ingram in the third quarter.
Ingram bullied the 49ers defense while leading his team downfield before Brees capped the drive off with a 11-yard touchdown to TE Jimmy Graham to pull to within a 21-17 deficit.
The 49ers, meanwhile, emerged from the locker room ice cold. Six straight punts and a slumping offense allowed New Orleans to mount a comeback late in the fourth quarter.
Brees picked apart the 49ers defense both through the air and on the ground, as head coach Sean Payton dialed up his aggressiveness. The Saints went for it on 4th-and-3, resulting in a 24-yard pickup to WR Marques Colston.
Brees used his fresh set of downs to find Graham in the end zone for his second score of the night and New Orleans’ first lead at 24-21.
With just under two minutes left, Kaepernick led his team onto the field for perhaps their most important drive of the season.
Things looked bleak for the 49ers as three straight drops led quickly to 4th-and-10. But receiver Michael Crabtree, who had dropped the previous pass, saved the game with a highlight reel 51-yard reception to keep the game alive.
The deep ball would be all that K Phil Dawson would need to put through a 45-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
After an 51-yard Andy Lee pinned New Orleans at their nine-yard line, OLB Ahmad Brooks — who was flagged last year for a controversial yet potentially game-clinching hit on Brees — stripped the quarterback as he stepped into the pocket. The ball found its way into the hands of LB Chris Borland, who smothered the turnover.
Coach Jim Harbaugh wasted no time in sealing the win as he immediately sent Dawson out to split the uprights with a 35-yard field goal to seal the 49ers victory for a grueling road win to advance their record to 5-4.
The 49ers look to stay afloat next weekend as they visit the New York Giants. Aldon Smith is expected to see the field for the first time all season.