Fooch's Note 2: Thanks to everybody for some great participation in the game threads. I know we have some wild mood swings in here, but I love how much involvement we have.
Fooch's Note: If you feel the need to explode with swearing, please take it to the last game thread.
I can't remember the last time a 49ers game wore me out quite like this one. The 49ers seemed to be trying to do all they could to give this game away and at the end of the day they did in fact give it away. The swing between positive and negative comments in the threads was really quite spectacular. While I disagree with some of the negative comments, I do agree that this was the ultimate woulda, coulda, shoulda game.
The game got off to an incredibly inauspicious beginning. The 49ers started with the ball and on third and long David Baas shot a snap over Alex Smith's head and into the end zone. Smith kicked it out of the end zone for a safety that really sort of defined the game. On the ensuing free kick, all world punter Andy Lee shanked the punt, although the crazy wind couldn't have helped matters. A short field gave the Saints explosive offense all the room it needed to move down the field at will and put the Saints up 9-0.
Alex Smith threw his first interception of the game two drives later on a pass that Frank Gore couldn't haul and subsequently tipped into the hands of a Saints defender. It seemed like nothing was going to go right, and yet the 49ers would regroup from the storm and turn this into one of the best Monday Night Football games in quite some time. The team put together a nice touchdown drive in which Alex Smith was hitting his targets for the most part and culminated the drive with a touchdown pass to Frank Gore. Then the mistakes began.
After the 49ers defense took care of business, the 49ers offense was putting together a very nice drive and were down inside the Saints 10 yard line. A quick pass to Delanie Walker looked to get the team closer, but as Walker battled for more yards, poor ball security struck and he coughed it up. Although the Saints did not score off the turnover, the 49ers blew a chance to take at least a 10-9 lead.
The 49ers opened the second half with a strong defensive stand to get the ball back and then proceeded to march down the field and score on six plays thanks to some timely catches by Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, both of whom were held in check in the first half. Anthony Dixon capped the drive with his first career rush and first career touchdown and the 49ers found themselves suddenly on top 14-9.
The next Saints drive saw more 49ers mistakes as two penalties for 20 yards and poor coverage doomed the 49ers. The Saints marched down and in spite of losing Reggie Bush on the drive, the Saints put a touchdown on the board. They kicked the extra point, rather than go for two and the Saints were up 16-14.
The Saints added three more points later, which was followed by the 49ers second interception of the night, this one tipped and picked before an open Michael Crabtree could make the catch. However, once again the 49ers defense would step up (not a common theme late obviously) and keep the Saints at bay.
The 49ers and Saints exchanged punts and then all of a sudden the Saints were driving down the field with under 5 minutes to play and that's when things got interesting. The Saints moved to a point where they had first and goal on the 49ers 4 yard line and were ready to put the boot to the 49ers throats. And then once again, the 49ers defense stiffened up. The Saints got down to the one on second down, and then were stuffed twice in a row to force a field goal.
And while the 49ers would go down in defeat, the next 53 seconds have to bring a smile to the eyes of most 49ers fans. The 49ers started on their own 18 yard line and Alex Smith proceeded to put together the kind of drive 49ers fans have been waiting on for over five seasons. Smith used his arm and legs to move the 49ers down on a precise two minute drill drive to even the score. Smith completed four of five passes for 51 yards and scrambled twice for 24 yards (both scrambles resulting in first downs). The drive was capped with a smart playcall of an inside handoff out of the shotgun as the Saints defense was spread out all over the field. An incredibly close VD catch later and the game was tied.
Obviously the 49ers defense yacked this one up at the end by playing incredibly soft. They had their chances to stop the Saints and they basically blew it. The 49ers defense had played amazing well for 58 minutes and 41 seconds, but they couldn't come through when it mattered most at the end and the 49ers go home 25-22 losers to the defending Super Bowl champs.
There are a million and one things to break down from today's game, but I'm just too damn exhausted from the emotional roller coaster the 49ers just put me through. I will say this: The 49ers blew a game they should have won by at least two scores. A combination of epic bad luck and some pretty awful decision making at times cost this team a monster upset and statement victory. The team showed incredibly improvement from a week ago, but one could say there is just as much room for improvement in certain specific areas.
Whatever the case, the 49ers are forcing me to suck down a moral victory I chastised with some disdain this morning. As I said then, moral victories are only valuable after the fact. You can't go into the game hoping for moral victories. You have to go in expecting to win the game. I think the 49ers did that today, and so I can accept the moral victories that do come from such a tough loss.
We'll have a lot more in the coming days about one of the most frustrating and entertaining 49ers games in recent memory.