20-17, the 49ers led the Saints with 3 minutes and 18 seconds left in the 4th quarter. On third down, the Saints had the ball on the 49ers 36-yard line, needing two yards to gain a first down. The following play went on to have a huge impact in deciding who won the game. Saints quarterback, Drew Brees dropped back in the pocket in attempt to throw for the first down but was quickly blindsided by 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Brees lost control of the football, which quickly fell into the hands of fellow 49er linebacker Patrick Willis. Quickly following the turnover came a flag from the referee standing in the backfield, saying that Brooks was guilty of, “hitting the quarterback in the neck/head area.” The result of the penalty not only gave the Saints the ball back, but it moved them forward 15 yards and awarded them a first down, completely changing the outlook of the game. The Saints would then go on to kick a game tying field goal with 2 minutes and 6 seconds left in the game, and soon after, the game winning field goal as time expired.
This call did not single handedly decide the game, but it did play a large role in how the final 3 minutes of the game were played. In the first 57 minutes of the game, a lot of the same themes seen in previous weeks were prevalent for the 49ers. Strong defense and special teams (with the exception of an unfortunate fair catch interference call) as well as a lacking passing game. While 49er quarterback, Colin Kaepernick did throw for 2 touchdowns; he only threw for 127 yards on 17 completions, showing that there was no real big play threat downfield in the passing game. The 49ers did much better offensively compared to last week against the Panthers, but still have much more improving to do.
The NFL has taken a strong stance on dangerous hits to the quarterback recently, making a strong effort to prevent injury. After initially watching Brooks’ hit, violent was one of many adjectives that came to mind. However, just because a hit looks violent, that does not make it a penalty. After watching the replay many times, it did not look like Brooks came in contact with Brees’s neck or head. The contact between Brooks and Brees came when the linebacker’s right arm wrapped itself around Brees’ upper torso and took him to the ground.
Following the game, both Brooks and Brees were asked about the hit, and understandably, had extremely different opinions. Via the San Francisco Chronicle, Brooks said, “I did not hit him with my helmet,” “I basically bear hugged him. That’s just how football is played. I think this sh*t is bullsh*t. Football, the way they call stuff these days, it’s watered down. It ain’t real no more.” From a defensive standpoint, it makes sense why Brooks would feel this way, as one could make the argument that the hit was legitimate and fair. Brees’ reaction was much different, saying, “All I remember is getting clotheslined in the chin and as I’m on the ground, I’m saying, ‘that’s got to be a flag.’” Much like Brooks’ perspective, Brees also makes an intriguing argument. The hit was violent and where Brooks first made contact with Brees is tough to tell, making it extremely difficult for referees to make a call that, in retrospect, had such a strong impact on the final three minutes.
Instead of the 49ers gaining possession of the ball, with a chance to run the clock down and ice the game, the Saints instead got a new set of downs and were able to tie the game in the final minutes. This being said, the 49ers were given an opportunity to win the game following the Saints kickoff, but were unable to capitalize, giving the Saints the ball back and ultimately, the victory. It is unfair to say that this call single handedly won the game for the Saints. The 49ers did not have an outstanding game, however, they were always in the game, creating more optimism moving forward in the coming weeks. Following this loss, the 49ers need to regroup and get ready for their game at Washington, next Monday night at 8:30 pm eastern time.