For the second straight week the San Francisco 49ers offense fell flat in the fourth quarter, this time against the New Orleans Saints. And for the second straight week the 49ers lost because of the ineffectiveness of Colin Kaepernick running the offense in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. San Francisco went down to New Orleans, 23-20, on a field goal in the final seconds.
The loss puts the 49ers tied for second in the NFC West with the Arizona Cardinals, who also have a 6-4 record. The two-game losing streak is diminishing the Niners chances of winning the NFC West. San Francisco has dug themselves into a three game hole behind the first-place Seattle Seahawks. For the rest of the season the 49ers must win out the games on their schedule because they are now a bubble team to make the playoffs.
Kaepernick had an up-and-down game. The 49ers offense started the game with three straight three-and-outs. San Francisco’s defense kept the Saints from scoring by forcing punts on their first two drives. But on the third drive of the game for New Orleans, Drew Brees orchestrated an 11-play, 97-yard touchdown drive for the first score. The Saints started at their three-yard line thanks to special teamer C.J. Spillman downing the punt near the goal line. The scoring drive was the Saints’ longest of the season and the longest given up by a 49ers defense in 184 games.
The 49ers would go on to score the next ten points that included an 11-yard touchdown reception by Anquan Boldin and a 55-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. The field goal that gave the 49ers a 10-7 lead was set up by a bizarre play. After Kaepernick threw an interception to Corey White, the Saints cornerback fumbled into the back of the end zone after trying to run it in for a touchdown. The fumble resulted in a touchback and a 49ers possession.
Just as momentum was swinging in the 49ers favor with a 10-7 lead, they allowed an 82-yard return to Travaris Cadet on the ensuing kickoff. The Saints only needed three plays to go the 21 yards to the end zone and retake the lead, 14-10, with a rushing touchdown.
Three minutes into the second half linebacker Ahmad Brooks intercepted a pass from Brees at New Orleans’ 44-yard line. Brooks returned the pick 22 yards which led to Vernon Davis’ 17-yard touchdown reception and a 17-14 score.
The only positive yards the 49ers could muster up in the fourth quarter came off a drive that overlapped from the third quarter. That drive ended with a 29-yard field goal and a 20-14 lead, but it also ended San Francisco’s fortunes in the game.
With no ground game whatsoever, including from Frank Gore who rushed for only 48 yards, Kaepernick was leaned on to keep the offense moving down the field to run out the clock and put the game away. He failed miserably. In the fourth quarter, San Francisco’s offense had negative seven yards. Kaepernick was two-of-seven passing and he was sacked for a nine-yard loss on the 49ers’ final possession.
San Francisco’s defense did a good job of holding off Drew Brees and his offense to limited damage done with touchdowns. The Saints did not score a touchdown in the second half, but the Niners defense did give up nine points on three field goals in the final frame of the game. The defense looked gassed in the fourth quarter as they gave up scoring drives of 77, 48 and 47 yards. However, not much blame should be laid at the feet of the defense for the teams woes in the fourth quarter. The infectiveness of the offense in the final 15 minutes was the reason why the 49ers lost the game. They put the defense repeatedly in the position of having to stop the Saints offense in the fourth quarter.
One thing is for sure for the Niners. When your offense cannot even gain positive yards with the game on the line against a first-place team, you don’t deserve to be called a playoff caliber team any more. If Kaepernick thought he faced a lot of criticism this past week, he hasn’t seen anything yet with the storm that lies ahead.