Entering Week Fourteen, the NFC remained in the balance. The premier conference in the NFL has proven to be a blood bath this year as the 10-2 San Francisco 49ers and the 10-2 New Orleans Saints met in the Superdome in a matchup that was sure to deliver – and deliver it did. Jimmy Garoppolo and co. clutched victory from the jaws of defeat with Robbie Gould‘s game-winning 30-yard field goal.
The first-half was played at an electrifying pace, teams went back and forth, not with the gusto and might of two heavyweight boxers, but with the finesse and speed of two Olympic fencers. Saints TE Jared Cook got the ball rolling with two big touchdowns early in the first quarter before being ruled out with a concussion. Kyle Shanahan brought his bag of tricks out early with a 35-yard touchdown pass thrown by Emmanuel Sanders on a trick play. Sanders proved to be one of the many stars of the outing, finishing with 7 receptions, 157 yards receiving and 1 (throwing) touchdowns. The two teams went into the half 28-27 Niners.
The second-half equaled the first in terms of intensity between the two teams but differed in terms of style. This time the bout turned into that heavyweight slugfest but the scoring kept on coming. NO pounced on a tipped Jimmy G pass to force the interception, SF answered back forcing an Alvin Kamara touchdown which resulted in 7 for the Niners.
The scoring went back and forth until Drew Brees reminded everyone how he’s one of the greatest of all time, leading the Saints on a 1:00 drive down the field on a go-ahead score.
Now, there are many iconic moments in 49er history, Dwight Clark‘s ‘The Catch’, Joe Montana‘s drive versus the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, T.O. defacing the star, Alex Smith against the Saints in the 2011 Divisional Round. George Kittle‘s stampede on 4th & 2 will certainly join them. Through that play, where it took three Saints defenders including an egregious facemask penalty by Marcus Williams, George Kittle exorcised all the ghosts that have plagued San Francisco throughout the last six years and seemingly forced the 49ers into the post-season.
With the loss for the Seahawks and the win in NOLA, the 49ers now have a stronghold on the number 1 seed and control their own destiny for the rest of the season. While the Niners fate is in their hands, they have been one of the most injured units in the NFL. Starting SS Jarquarski Tartt was missing against the Saints as well as edge rusher Dee Ford (who left early with a hamstring strain), Richard Sherman was also missing during Drew Brees’ final drive. The Niners D is already banged up and stretched thin, staying healthy against the Falcons, Rams and Seahawks should be a priority for the Niners ahead of the post-season.
As for the Saints, this loss does not derail their post-season plans completely. While the home-field advantage is still a possibility, the Saints should finish the season as a 2 or a 3 seed. Do not be surprised to see Sean Payton and Drew Brees playing for the NFC Championship or even the Lombardi.
With the regular season in it’s twilight and the playoffs rapidly approaching, as the weather outside grows colder the battle on the gridiron heats up. I’m sure we can all expect more ferocious football as we delve further into football.