There are games. There are big games. And then, there are statement games. For the San Francisco 49ers, today was a statement game.
Coming off last week’s tough loss to Baltimore, the 49ers marched into the Superdome, and beat Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, 48-46. It was a shootout. It was loud.
“I thought we handled the noise great” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “It wasn’t perfect. I thought we were able to overcome it.”
Narrator: they were able to overcome it. Shanahan – whose play-calling was next level today – and Jimmy Garoppolo got the last shot.
George Kittle Is Everything
With 0:53 left in the game, San Francisco trailed New Orleans, 46-45, after Saints’ QB Drew Brees threw his fifth touchdown pass of the day but failed on his second two-point conversion attempt of the day.
The game-winning drive went something like this (or exactly like this):
On 1st and 10, Garoppolo completed an eight-yard pass to tight end George Kittle. The next two passes were incomplete, making it 4th and 2 with 0:39 left in the game. Garoppolo connected with Kittle, who ran down the field for 39 yards, with Saints’ safety Marcus Williams holding his face mask a large chunk of the way. Only Kittle.
The yards and the penalty set up Robbie Gould’s 30-yard game-winning field goal and the 49ers improve to 11-2.
Kittle’s talents as a blocker and a receiver are well-documented, but he brings so much more to the offense and the team as a whole.
Left tackle Joe Staley may have said it best, “Thank God we have George Kittle.”
Mike McGlinchey called him “the best in the world” and Deforest Buckner said Kittle’s the G.O.A.T.
“Everyone knows how good of a player he is, but when one of your best players has the mentality he has, that changes everything,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “I kind of always say that O-lineman don’t have a choice. They’ve got to be tough, down in and down out, but the mentality of your offense and how tough a team you are has to do with your skill positions…Kittle’s as physical a tight end as there is in this league…”
Tough Day for the 49ers’ Defense
The 49ers’ defense has guaranteed victory in many a 49ers’ game this season. Today was not one of those games.
“Thank goodness for our offense,” said cornerback Richard Sherman, who left late in the game with a hamstring injury and did not return. “Thank goodness for Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, obviously Kyle Shanahan. The entire offense made plays when they had to, made plays own the stretch…We’re thankful we got the win. Great team win.”
Up until today, the most points the 49ers had allowed this season was 27 against the Seattle Seahawks. The Saints scored 46. Brees finished the day 29-of-40 for 349 yards and five touchdowns. Michael Thomas had 11 receptions for 134 yards and a TD, making him the first receiver to go over 100 yards against this defense since Week 2.
The team that came into the game with 45 sacks had none today.
“It’s frustrating because of simple plays.” Sherman said. “It’s things we’ve gone over. Its’ not like they beat us with a bunch of trick misdirection plays. These are day-one football plays that we have to execute better. Give credit to them. Drew [Brees] saw them, found the people that were open, and made the plays. Give them credit, they had a good plan coming in, but we have to execute better.”
Franchise QB and a QB 2
Jimmy Garoppolo was every part the franchise quarterback today, and if we’re all being honest, he has been all season. The Superdone was loud. This was a huge game as the 49ers fight for the division, a bye, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The guy under center for the other team is going to the Hall of Fame one day. And Garoppolo led his team to victory.
“He’s unbelievable. No matter what happens,” said Shanahan. “He’s had a lot of good games this year. He has made some times where he’s made some mistakes. But he’s the same guy every day. Just to be able to deal with that crowd noise and to deal with adversity that went in and out throughout the game, to be able to deal with me, he’s the same and a lot of fun to coach.”
Garoppolo finished the day 26-of-35 for 349 yards, four touchdowns, one INT, and rating of 131.7.
“Jimmy is a baller,” said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. “You can look at him and see what kind of player he is. He works hard. When you’ve got somebody like Jimmy with the personality that he has, in the clutch moments he’s not going to fold because of all the hard work that he’s put in.”
Sanders, for the record, is also a baller. He has seven receptions for 157 yards, and a touchdown, a 75-yard touchdown in fact. He also completed a 35-yard touchdown pass to Raheem Mostert. It was the second touchdown pass of his career.
“We ran it like five times [in practice],” Sanders said. “The last time we ran it I actually threw a duck. I was like, ‘Man, don’t throw a duck in the game because that will be on ESPN Not Top 10. I was able to execute today…It was one of those plays coming into the game that we wanted to be a touchdown. So, it feels good being up here.”
QB1 was busy during the play, so he didn’t get to see the competition (kidding), but he saw the result and that was most important.
— Tracy Sandler (@49ersfangirl) December 8, 2019
“I didn’t actually get to see it. I was ‘blocking,'” Garoppolo joked. “I threw a shoulder in there. I’ll see it on film though. I was so happy. I turned around. He was laying on the ground. It was great timing. It was awesome.”
After returning to the field today, defensive end Dee Ford left the game with a hamstring injury and did not return. Center Weston Richburg was carted off the field with a knee and ankle injury. Shanahan said he does not know the severity, but he did say Richburg was on crutches.
After being away from home for 10 days, the 49ers return home to Santa Clara to prepare for the 4-9 Atlanta Falcons, who are also Shanahan’s former team. Three games left in the regular season 49ers fans! Let’s go!