An interesting development happened going into the first offensive series of the half for New Orleans, as Jameis Winston started at quarterback in place of Drew Brees. Brees was on the sidelines with a helmet on, but was not playing. The Saints drive resulted in a Thomas Morstead punt to start the half. We’d later learn that Brees had a rib injury, and was deemed questionable to return. Meanwhile, the Saints defense would catch a huge break after the 49ers were threatening, thanks to a Malcolm Jenkins interception. However, they’d do nothing with it as the game stayed 17-10 with 4:49 left in the third quarter.
After another strong defensive series, the Saints would get the ball back and be able to move down the field a good bit with Winston at the helm. Finding Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas certainly helped, as New Orleans would get in a 1st-and-Goal situation at the 49ers’ 4-yard line to close out the quarter.
Street broke through the offensive line, wrapped up Saints QB Drew Brees and took him to the ground for what looked like a classic sack.
But then a flag was thrown and Street quickly learned he was being punished for doing his job.
The NFL world agreed.
The 49ers don’t have good enough players to make mistakes and beat good teams. Ken Webster letting a punt bounce off of him, a Nick Mullens interception, a dropped Jimmie Ward interception and a Richie James muffed punt were all key plays in a 49ers loss.
The 49ers had a fourth-and-1 at the Saints’ 41 with 1:55 left in the first half. Head coach Kyle Shanahan dialed up a shotgun run to Jerick McKinnon, who was having a bad first half. The play lost two yards. The Saints went on to score six plays later to go up 17-10. This version of the 49ers isn’t built to come back. Losing that momentum on the fourth-and-1 was the ball game.
Coach Sean Payton revealed after the game that Brees is set to undergo an MRI and X-Rays to determine the severity of the injury.
“He took a heavy shot in the first half. As he came out in the second half, he felt it was really impacting him,” Payton told reporters. “So, specifically, he’ll get an MRI and X-Rays. His back felt sore. As he tried to throw, he just came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I don’t feel like I’m capable of playing.’ And so, quickly, we made the switch and, you know, that happens sometimes.
“He felt strong enough about letting me know and I know when he does that, which is probably gonna be the first time in 15 years, that it was significant enough where he felt like he couldn’t function in the second half.”
The Saints relied on Alvin Kamara before and after Brees’ injury. He finished the game with 98 offensive yards and three touchdowns to power an offense that only picked up 237 yards over the entire game.
Hill lost a fumble and Deonte Harris muffed a punt, but the 49ers were sloppier. They muffed a pair of punts and Nick Mullens threw a pair of interceptions to help turn a 10-0 lead into a 14-point loss. Brandon Aiyuk and Jordan Reed had their moments, but the undermanned 49ers offense simply didn’t have enough in the tank to hang with the Saints once the home team found its footing.
On that play seven years ago, linebacker Ahmad Brooks forced the ball out on a would-be game-winning strip sack but was penalized for hitting Brees in the neck area. Some fans viewed the whistle as too harsh against San Francisco even as replay showed the quarterback’s neck stretching like a giraffe’s against the force of the tackle.
The incident turned Brees into an unfortunate meme that in hindsight was probably insensitive toward the lasting pain it inflicted on the quarterback.
In any case, Sunday’s flag was more egregious than what happened with Brooks, who was eventually fined $15,750 by the NFL. Brees was essentially tackled too hard, according to the referee, leading to a suspect judgment of roughing the passer. The league doesn’t allow defenders to land their full body weight on top of the quarterback, but it appeared Kentavius Street hit the field to the side of Brees.