49ers can't finish

Growing up is not going to be easy for the 49ers. They had a rousing road victory right there on their fingertips Sunday in New Orleans, but then they dropped the ball.

It allowed the Saints to have the final say in a 30-27 victory that appeared for all too long like it would be an inspiring step in the right direction for a wayward San Francisco team that continued to have players drop by the wayside with injuries, but found itself in a position to put away the game late in the fourth quarter after pushing around New Orleans for most of the second half.

But Jamal Robertson's killer fumble at the New Orleans 40-yard line with 3:42 to play gave the Saints new life, and they took advantage.

After limiting the Saints to just 11 net yards on their previous three second-half possessions, San Francisco's resurgent defense couldn't stop New Orleans when it counted. Working out of the shotgun after reaching midfield, quarterback Aaron Brooks completed four of six passes to move the Saints down the field, culminating the winning drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Donte Stallworth.

"If they don't score there, they don't win," Niners defensive tackle Bryant Young said after San Francisco limited the Saints to just 82 yards of offense in the second half. "Guys were anxious and there was a sense of urgency to make plays out there on defense, and toward the end, we just didn't quite get it done."

They almost did. On a first-down pass with 1:20 remaining, defensive tackle Tony Brown tipped a Brooks pass straight up in the air and it came down right in the hands of Niners defensive end John Engelberger.

But Engelberger dropped the gift, and the Saints made San Francisco pay dearly for another extra chance.

Still, the 49ers weren't done.

After taking the ensuing kickoff, they started their final drive at the San Francisco 29-yard line with 56 seconds remaining.

Quarterback Ken Dorsey - who was making his first NFL start and got stronger and stronger as the game progressed - immediately hit tight end Eric Johnson for nine yards and receiver Curtis Conway for 24 to move into New Orleans territory.

Then, Dorsey hit Terry Jackson on a brilliantly-conceived screen pass, and Jackson took it down to the New Orleans 1-yard line after a 37-yard gain.

But wait. Way behind the play, receiver Brandon Lloyd was whistled for offensive pass interference. Replays showed it to be a very questionable call as Lloyd appeared to be simply blocking a cornerback as Jackson sped upfield.

"I didn't see the play, but from what I heard, it was not the right call," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "I don't know what they see sometimes. We just played too hard to have it get down to that kind of thing. It's disappointing that happens at a critical point in the game."

It couldn't have been any more critical for the 49ers. Instead of having a chance to win or at least kick a gimme field goal to force overtime, San Francisco was sent back 10 yards to the 48 with 12 seconds remaining. Dorsey's desperation heave on the next play was intercepted to settle the issue.

It was an otherwise promising starting debut by Dorsey, who shrugged off an 0-for-5 passing start to finish 18 of 32 for 205 yards. Dorsey, starting in place of injured regular Tim Rattay, revved up after halftime and methodically moved the Niners down the field on each of their five second-half drives.

The third of those drives - a 15-play, 84-yard march that featured seven first downs - was completed by Robertson's 1-yard scoring plunge and gave San Francisco a 27-23 lead with 7:07 left. Robertson was in the game in place of starter Kevan Barlow, who had 114 yards rushing but was limited to just five carries in the second half due to a rib injury.

That left Robertson handling the football with less than four minutes to play when all the Niners needed was a first down or two to ice the game. In all, three San Francisco drives in the second half ended with turnovers as the Niners ended up stopping themselves from running away with an upset victory.

Instead, they're 0-2, having wasted a great opportunity for a comeback win for the second consecutive week.

"That one definitely was tough, especially when we had the game late in the game," said Conway, who had a team-high eight receptions for 112 yards while starting in place of Cedrick Wilson, who was a late scratch with a hamstring injury. "We just made some mistakes going down to the end. We're young and we have to live and learn."

The hard way, as it turned out Sunday.

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