LIVE Game Blog: 49ers vs. Saints
(12:03) The 49ers win the toss and have an opportunity to set the tone early on offense, and also keep the football away from the Saints and the NFL's No. 1 offense. San Francisco's amazing defensive turnaround of the past month will be severely tested today, and gets an opportunity to make a statement that will be heard around the league … (12:08) The 49ers come out with a different look, starting rookie Delanie Walker at tight end. But Walker gets in the way of Antonio Bryant on a bootleg rollout by quarterback Alex Smith on the game's first play from scrimmage, and Bryant can't make the catch. On third down, Bryant takes a crossing pattern over the middle but comes up a yard short of the first down. It's a three-and-out, and so much for setting the tone on offense … (12:09) Great coverage on the punt however, as Andy Lee sends a 45-yard boomer and the great Reggie Bush catches it with space in front of him. That space closes immediately, however, as the 49ers envelope him quickly and stuff him after a four-yard return. Add on 10 yards backward as the Saints are called for holding. That's an excellent start for the punt coverage team, because containing Bush on returns will be important today … (12:15) The Saints come out passing, and on second-and-3 Mark Roman and Donald Strickland make receiver Devery Henderson pay for coming over the middle, sandwiching him with a big hit and forcing an incompletion. Strickland gets the worst of the collision, however, and he's forced to come out. It's rookie Marcus Hudson on the corner now, and that's not good. But the Niners blitz hotshot quarterback Drew Brees - the NFL leader in passing yards - on third down, and he's forced to throw quickly for an incompletion. A three-and-out for the Saints, and maybe it's the San Francisco defense that will be setting the tone today … (12:33) The 49ers are clearly out of sync on offense. On their second series, they go with a flea-flicker, and even though Arnaz Battle gets open deep, Smith is way off target down the field. It's another three-and-out for the Niners, but the same thing happens to the Saints. The next time the 49ers get the ball back, Smith goes deep down the sideline to Bryant, but it's another poor throw. Cornerback Fred Thomas is initially flagged for interference, but the officials frickin' pick up the flag! No penalty. These 49ers just can't get a break from the zebras, and it's their third consecutive three-and-out to start the game. The Saints, however, go nowhere again after picking up the game's first down. This San Francisco defense is really bearing down. The Saints have to punt again, and that's six punts in the game's first nine minutes. These two teams are really feeling each other out … (12:43) So where's Frank Gore? Oh, there he is. The NFL's second-leading rusher carries three times for minus-1 yards on San Francisco's first three series, but the 49ers stop trying to be cute on drive No. 4 and start of giving it to Gore from the get-go. He bursts up the middle for eight yards on first down, then for 12 on the next play to give San Francisco its first first down. Now he's getting warmed up, and so is the San Francisco offense. Norv Turner calls a brilliant play on third-and-8 to keep the drive moving, with Gore taking a direct snap from center, then handing it off to Bryan Gilmore on an end-around for a 12-yard gain that keeps the drive moving and puts the 49ers into Saints territory for the first time … (12:50) The 49ers drive it down to a first down at the New Orleans 15, but then the drive stalls. The Niners should ram the ball right at the Saints with Gore, but their trying a bunch of trickery to keep the Saints off-balance. Hopefully, that will pay off later in the game. Gore takes another direct snap in shotgun formation on third-and-9 and takes it to the 12, and that's where the Joe Nedney lines up for a 29-yard field goal that puts the 49ers in the lead at 3-0. The 49ers, however, need touchdowns - not short Nedney field goals - when they get in the red zone today … (12:52) The 49ers allow a season-long 47-yard return by Michael Lewis on the ensuing kickoff, and the Saints are in business at their own 48-yard line. Deuce McAllister gets six yards up the middle on first down, and that's how the first quarter ends, with San Francisco leading 3-0. All in all, not a bad way for the 49ers to get things started in the Big Easy … (12:59) Wow, what an electric play by Bush. The Saints face a third-and-7 at the San Francisco 15, and it looks like the 49ers are going to get a stop as they bring great pressure from the left side. But Brees dumps the ball of to Bush in the right flat, and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner works magic. He cuts into the clear, completely jukes Hudson, cuts back to the middle, bounces of Roman at the five, then almost bulls his way into the end zone before setting up the Saints with a first-and-goal at the 1. And he might have actually made it into the end zone on the play … (1:05) Bush does make it into the end zone on the next play, but not without a little bit of controversy. He leaps into a pile of bodies and stretches the ball to the goal line, but the ball comes out as he hits the ground. Fumble? The 49ers are pointing that they have the football. But no. The line judges comes in and signals touchdown, and after a brief conference on the field, that's the way the officials rule it. Mike Nolan throws the red flag immediately, and he should. Oh, wait. After looking at the replays, he probably shouldn't. Bush clutches the ball in his hand until he hits the ground and the 49ers strip it away. Since Bush was so high in the air to begin with, that ball spent a lot of time over the goal line on the way down. This one's not going to be overturned, and it's not. It's 7-3 Saints just minutes into the second quarter … (1:17) Why don't the Niners just pound the ball with Gore? It's the only thing that has worked to this point. But they come out throwing again after the New Orleans touchdown, and Smith is sacked for an 8-yard loss on first down. Sheesh. Another drive is ruined right there. But the Niners get a big 50-yard punt from Lee, and the Saints get stopped near midfield after picking up one first down. Ball back to San Francisco … (1:21) I just don't get it. The 49ers get pushed back to their 12 by Steve Weatherford's punt, and Gore picks up a couple of yards on first down. Feed him the football! But Smith tries play-action passing on second down, and he's sacked again. On third down, Smith goes long to Bryant down the right sideline, and Bryant is tripped as the ball arrives. Of course, there is no flag thrown. There could have been, but the 49ers just aren't getting those kind of flags this year … (1:31) Big fourth-down play here. The Saints are at the San Francisco 48, and they need 1-yard. It looks good for the 49ers as the play develops, but McAllister squirts through the middle for three yards to keep the Saints alive. It's another missed fourth-and-1 opportunity by the San Francisco defense, bringing up visions of last week, when the 49ers had a couple of those against the Rams. Now it's third-and-7 from the 42. Step up, 49ers. But no. Bush catches a short pass over the middle and turns into a first down. It's first-and-10 at the 32 at the two-minute warning … (1:36) Another big third-down play. Roderick Green bursts in from the right side on third-and-6 and has Brees in his grasp in the backfield, but he's able to flip a pass over the middle … and it finds Bush crossing the field! He easily picks up the first down, just when it looks like the 49ers have the Saints stopped for a long field goal attempt … (1:42) And now, it's the Reggie show again. On second-and-goal from the 8, Bush takes a straight-ahead handoff. There's nothing doing inside, so he cuts quickly to the left side. He's giving up ground backwards to find the corner, and Sammy Davis comes up from right cornerback to make the tackle. But Davis takes a horrible angle. That's a killer! Bush sidesteps a flailing Davis, and the sideline is all his. Terrible, terrible play by Davis. Now Bush strolls into the end zone, practically walking in at the goal line as Jeff Ulbrich gives futile pursuit. And that makes it 14-3 New Orleans at halftime. The 49ers need to regroup quickly at the break to stay in this one … (1:55) Brees has just 95 yards passing at halftime, and his two top receivers - Marques Colston, who's out with an injury, and Joe Horn, who went out with an injury during the first half - aren't playing. You've got to believe the 49ers would love to hear that kind of halftime recap. But McAllister and Bush are hurting them on the ground, particularly Bush in the red zone. Bush has just 20 yards rushing at the break, but it's his two rushing touchdowns that are looking very large right now … (2:04) Nice stop by the 49ers as the Saints go three-and-out to begin the second half. But now the Niners have to get something going on offense. Six of their seven drives in the first half gained nine yards or fewer, and three of those drives finished with negative yardage … (2:07) But there it is! The 49ers strike quickly to begin the second half, and now they're right back in the game. Smith hits Bryant for 14 yards on first down, then hits Gore for seven yards on the next play. After Gore picks up the first down on an eight-yard burst, Smith looks deep for Bryant, and there he is behind the New Orleans secondary. This time, Smith makes a nice deep throw, and it's touchdown 49ers on 48-yard Smith-to-Bryant connection. Just like that, the 49ers are within 14-10 … (2:15) Wow, what a crazy sequence of plays. First, the 49ers stun the Saints with an onside kick after Bryant's touchdown. It's another perfect kick by Nedney, and rookie Michael Robinson brings it in easily past the 40-yard line and falls to the turf. The Niners get the ball back! But on first down, Smith tries to hit Bryant on a deep curl, and Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie intercepts it. That could have been interference on McKenzie, but - of course - there's no flag. Now McKenzie is taking it down the sideline, and he might go in for the score. But he's tripped up inside the 10 and … fumbles as he goes down near the goal line! The 49ers have the ball! But wait. Saints coach Sean Payton throws the red flag. This one is going to be reviewed … (2:20) So, you know what that means … the 49ers get screwed again!! The ruling was that McKenzie fumbled as he went down without any contact, but the officials rule that Smith got a hand on McKenzie as he went by him. So it's first down New Orleans at the San Francisco 6. What a dramatic turnaround for the 49ers … (2:21) But the defense gets tough and holds to keep the 49ers with a touchdown. Payton thinks about going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but he's not that much of a risk-taker. Better to take the short John Carney field goal, and Carney hit's the gimme 19-yarder to put the Saints up 17-10. It could have been worse for the Niners. But after that onside kick, it could have been better, too. … (2:30) The 49ers go three-and-out again on offense - heard that one before? - and now the Saints are taking control. It could have all been avoided back at the New Orleans 35-yard line, as the 49ers have Brees trapped in the pocket on third-and-8. But he avoids blitzing safety Chad Williams, and somehow breaks free up the middle for a 16-yard gain - his longest run of the season. That's a killer. Now McAllister breaks tackles for an 18-yard gain, and Bush follows with a nine-yard burst up the middle. Now the Saints have a first down inside the San Francisco 10 … (2:38) Now the 49ers are unraveling. Keith Lewis gets called for a major facemask penalty, and its half the distance to the goal and first down for the Saints at the 4. On the next play, Anthony Adams gets called for defensive holding, and its half the distance to the goal and first down at the 2. But then the defense steps up once again, pushing the Saints back to a third-and-goal situation at the 5. Another big stop to keep the 49ers in the game? Keep an eye on that Bush guy here. But no! The 49ers fail to do that, and Bush takes a shovel pass in the middle and cruises into the end zone for his third touchdown of the game. Another missed opportunity for the San Francisco defense, and the Niners probably should have had better awareness on that play of the guy who has burned them all day long … (2:42) Can the 49ers score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter? That's what they'll have to do to get back in this one, along with keeping the Saints off the scoreboard again. The third quarter ends with the 49ers deep in New Orleans territory and trailing 24-10 … (2:47) A Vernon Davis sighting. On third-and-6, Smith finds the rookie alone along the left sideline, and the rookie shows he can make the tough catch after all with a nice lunging grab for a 21-yard gain. The 49ers might have something going here. Smith back to pass on the next play, and he has two receivers going deep. Battle and Bryant both are behind the New Orleans secondary. Smith sends it deep for Bryant. Wrong choice. The ball is out there, but McKenzie closes well and dives in front of Bryant to make a great interception at the New Orleans 9, his second of the day. Smith might have Battle for a touchdown if he'd gone the other way. But now New Orleans has the ball back, and that's a big blow to any San Francisco comeback … (2:54) And that about does it. The Saints face a third-and-11 at their own 8, but the tiring San Francisco defense fails again. Guess who gets the ball here? It's Bush on a short flare pass in the flat again, and once again the 49ers look dumbfounded and flat-footed to stop him. Making amazing moves and showing his great speed, Bush slices through the 49ers for the first down … and there he goes! He jukes away from a safety near midfield, and Bush is gone. But as he cruised down the right sideline to complete a 92-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown, Bush inexplicably bobbles the ball with no 49er around him. He‘s forced to step out of bounds at the San Francisco 18 to regain control of the ball, so he settles for a 74-yard gain that's a complete back-breaker for the 49ers … (2:58) Bush gets his touchdown anyway. Three plays later, on third-and-2 from the San Francisco 10, Bush takes a handoff around left end. It's another Reggie highlight show, as Bush makes a nifty cut for the first down, then makes 49ers miss as he weaves toward the end zone. He dives for the goal-line, and it's another spectacular touchdown for Bush - his fourth of the day. The ball comes loose at the goal line, and it looks like the 49ers might have a chance to get this one overturned as Mike Nolan throws the red flag for a challenge. Yeah, right. That's not going to happen. The touchdown stands, the 49ers burn their final timeout early in the fourth quarter, and just like that, the Saints lead 31-10 and this game is a rout … (3:13) The 49ers are a beaten team now, and they are fading to the finish. McAllister rips through them repeatedly, and the Saints go marching down the field once again. McAllister gets the football on seven consecutive rushes, picking up 44 yards and two first downs in the process. The 49ers stuff Bush for no gain on third-and-1 from the San Francisco 26, but sure enough, something goes wrong. The 49ers have 12 men on the field, and the five-yard penalty gives New Orleans another first down at the 21. The Saints finally call off the dogs and settle for another short Carney field goal after McAllister is stopped short on third-and-6. That makes the count 34-10 with the two-minute warning approaching … (3:22) And that's the coup de grace. The 49ers aren't going to just quit, so they attempt to go down the field for a meaningless score in the final minutes. From his own 41, Smith lofts a pass over the middle for Davis, who has a chance at the ball but can't get to it. It's because he's being grabbed by linebacker Scott Fujita. Here comes the flag. Where were those win the 49ers needed them earlier? Anyway, it's a 27-yard penalty that takes the 49ers to the New Orleans 35. But on the next play, Smith is hit as he throws. It's an air ball, and free safety Josh Bullocks is waiting for it as it comes down. Bullocks makes the pick, the third interception for Smith, who may have just had his worst game of the season … (3:25) And that's how it ends, with the Saints taking a couple of kneel-downs and New Orleans owner Tom Benson - the fickle character who toyed with the idea of moving the Saints out of the Crescent City after the Hurricane Katrina tragedy - is doing his act on the sidelines, waving to the fans like he's some kind of hero or something. But he can do that when his team is winning 34-10 on its way to improving to a NFC South-leading 8-4. And that's how it ends for the 49ers, who see the Saints score 20 unanswered points to end the game …
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