Photo credit: cbssports.com
By: Joe Lami
The Niners walked off the field with the win and control of the number one seed as Robbie Gould’s 30-yard buzzer-beating field goal flew through the uprights with zeros on the clock in the Superdome on Sunday. The 48-46 shootout was an instant classic and the game of the year that included seven different lead changes.
“That’s as cool of a game as I’ve ever been part of,” said Kyle Shanahan.
Jimmy Garoppolo was elite in his best game as an NFL quarterback. Throwing for 349 yards, four touchdowns, for a 131.7 passer rating, Garoppolo led the Niners past the Saints in the Superdome despite his defense giving up 46 points. His day was nearly perfect minus a third-quarter interception that bounced in the air off of Emmanuel Sanders’ hands.
“You gotta give Jimmy Garoppolo credit. That was a shootout, and he got the last shot, said Richard Sherman.”
In the last month, Garoppolo’s averaged a 125.8 passer rating with three of those contests coming against division leaders Green Bay, Baltimore, and New Orleans. He also now sits with 25 touchdowns on the season, three shy of Lamar Jackson for the league lead.
Garoppolo’s final shot came after the Saints scored a go-ahead touchdown to go up by one. Due to a missed two-point conversion for the Saints earlier in the first quarter, New Orleans was forced to go for two again and were stuffed. Jimmy was given 53 seconds and three timeouts to march into field goal range for the win.
After a short pass and two incompletions, the Niners faced fourth and two when Garoppolo found Kittle, who made what’s become a typical “George Kittle type” play. Carrying two defenders and getting faced masked along the way, Kittle picked up 39 yards and an extra 14 for the penalty setting up the game-winning kick.
The 49ers’ defense is lucky for how well Garoppolo and the offense played. They were gashed all day by the Saints’ offense. Drew Brees had Garoppolo-type stats, throwing for 349, five touchdowns, and one rushing. He had one more passing TD than Jimmy, but Emmanuel Sanders stole that one when he threw to Raheem Mostert on a trick play in the second quarter.
Receivers on both sides of the ball were benefactors to the quarterback play. Michael Thomas led New Orleans, catching 11 balls for 134 yards and a touchdown. Jarred Cook was Brees’ early option, catching the first two New Orleans’ touchdowns before leaving the game with a concussion. Tre’Quan Smith and Josh Hill caught the other touchdowns.
Emmanuel Sanders led the Niners with seven catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. He also threw the 35-yard dart to Mostert in his best game as a Niner. Kittle finished with 76 yards, after man-handling the Saints for 39 on the last drive. Kendrick Bourne caught two touchdowns on three receptions for 18 yards.
Deebo Samuel continues to break out and appear like a future pro-bowler for the red and gold. The second-round rookie caught five balls for 76 yards. He also rushed for 33 yards on two carries.
The Niners also rushed the ball exceptional again. Mostert rushed for 69 yards on ten carries and scored on the ground as well. Matt Brieda, coming off his ankle injury, was limited but looked good in spurts, rushing for 54 yards on six carries.
There were plenty of holes and things of concern for San Francisco, but it was all over-shadowed by Garoppolo’s play. The special teams allowed 192 yards to Denote Harris on kick and punt returns. The undrafted rookie had 14 go for touchdowns while at Assumption College.
Most concerning, center, Weston Richburg went down with what appeared to be a serious knee and ankle injury in the third quarter. After being carted off the field, Ben Garland filled-in his shoes and was decent. But losing Richburg for the remainder of the season could be critical for the playoff-stretch.
The Niners finished their toughest stretch of the season, going 2-1 against the divisional leaders and now control their destiny for home-field advantage. They’ll wrap up a playoff position tonight if the Rams lose to the Seahawks.