49ers fall to 4-6 on the year after 27-13 loss to the Saints in New Orleans

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) watches the action in the second half against the San Francisco 49ers at the Superdome in New Orleans on Sun Nov 15, 2020 (AP News photo)

By Joe Hawkes
Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS, LA — Already dealing with a depleted roster, the 49ers needed to play near perfect against the Saints if they expected to leave the Crescent City with a win. San Francisco had their share of chances, but couldn’t overcome four turnovers as the Saints take down the 49ers with a 27-13 victory in front of approximately 6,000 fans inside the Mercedes Superdome on Sunday afternoon.

New Orleans (7-2) have now won six-straight games and send the 49ers to their third-straight loss this season. Its the first three-game losing streak for San Francisco since 2018.

The injury-laden 49ers (4-6) head into a much-needed bye week where they will try to regroup for the final six games of their season. San Francisco has little wiggle room if it expects to make the playoffs after playing the Super Bowl a season ago.

San Francisco’s next game will be at the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 29 in what will be a must-win game for the 49ers. They’ve already taken the first matchup against the Rams, 26-14, back on Oct. 26 at Levi’s Stadium.

Nick Mullens, who was making his second-straight start and fourth of the year in place of regular starter Jimmy Garoppolo, started off the 49ers’ first possession sizzling, completing 6 of 7 passes for 47 yards and converting a couple of third downs on a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.

Mullens connected with rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk on a 4-yard touchdown pass to cap off a drive that lasted 7 minutes, 17 seconds giving San Francisco an early 7-0 lead.

Aiyuk finished with seven catches for 75 yards and one touchdown while being targeted a team-high 14 times.

Mullens completed 24 of 38 passes for 247 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was briefly removed from the game in favor of C.J. Beathard in the fourth quartere on a third-and-21 play because of Beathard’s stronger arm. Beathard underthrew the ball deep to wide receiver Richie James.

Mullens would return to the field on the next series.

San Francisco dominated New Orleans the first half, gaining more total yards (166 to 90) and first downs 13 to 6). The 49ers ran 40 offensive plays to the Saints’ 21 while controlling the time of possession (22 minutes to 8 minutes).

After jumping out to a 10-0 lead following a 32-yard field goal by kicker Robbie Gould early in the second quarter, special teams made some costly mistakes.

They gave up a 75-yard kickoff return to Deonte Harris to setup a field goal for the Saints that cut the lead to 10-3.

Later in the quarter, 49ers special-teamer Ken Webster found himself too close to a punt that Trent Taylor let land. The ball hit Webster in the face mask and the Saints recovered at the 49ers’ own 21-yard line.

Two plays later, the 49ers defense made a big play when defensive tackle Kentavius Street sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees for an 8-yard loss. Brees was hurt on the play. Street’s first career sack was nullified by a questionable roughing the passer penalty after Street landed on Brees. Replays appear to show that Street turned his body to the side to avoid landing on Brees with his full body weight.

Backup quarterback Jameis Winston replaced Brees in the second half. Brees was ruled out of the game with a rib injury. He finished 8 of 13 for 76 yards and one touchdown.

That penalty appeared to be crucial as it led to a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Alvin Kamara three plays later that tied the game at 10-10.

New Orleans would add another touchdown before the end of the first half and take a 17-10 lead into the locker room at halftime after running back Jerick McKinnon was stopped for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the New Orleans 41-yard line. Kamara scored his second touchdown in the first half on a 3-yard pass from Brees.

It was a calamity of errors for the 49ers in the game, but the 49ers had opportunities to pull out the upset on the road. Safety Jimmie Ward dropped a potential interception inside the Saints’ territory, but the muffed punt by wide receiver Richie James in the fourth quarter was the back breaker for San Francisco.

Kamara’s third score of the game (a 1-yard run) gave the Saints a commanding 27-10 lead with 7:29 left in the game. The Saints do-it-all running back finished with seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, while running for 15 yards on 8 carries and two touchdowns.

The 49ers would add a 40-yard field goal to cut the Saints’ lead to 27-13, but too little too late.

San Francisco’s inability to run the football was clearly evident from the Saints closing up any and all running lanes. The aforementioned McKinnon rushed for 33 yards on 18 carries. Rookie running back JaMychal Hasty rushed for 13 yards on 3 carries, but injured his clavicle on a tackle by Saints linebacker Demario Davis.

Rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw had his best game of his career, registering 1.5 of San Francisco’s three sacks. Despite the final outcome, the 49ers defense played well holding the Saints to 237 total yards and 2 of 12 on third down.