Wide receiver Arnaz Battle enjoyed his turn in the spotlight with 7 catches for 120 yards, marking his first 100-yard day of his NFL career. Unfortunately, his big day will quickly be forgotten with the 49ers dropping a 31-17 road loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Battle snatched clutch receptions throughout the course of the game, but the rest of the offense failed to pull through in a pinch.
The 49ers easily marched down the field on their opening drive, never needing a third down to move the chains until they got to the Saints 29-yardline. On a 3rd and 7, JT O'Sullivan aired one deep to Isaac Bruce, and was nearly picked off by Roman Harper. Joe Nedney got the 49ers on the board with a 47-yard field goal, giving the 49ers a 3-0 lead.
Their next three and out series was followed up by a turnover when O'Sullivan was chased down from behind, sacked and stripped of the ball.
""I just can't turn the ball over like that," said O'Sullivan. "Whether I need to feel that guy behind me or just have the wherewithal to get up the field or throw the ball away – any of those answers (would be good) – other than holding on to the ball and getting it stripped."
The Saints took over at the 49ers 32-yardline and scored a touchdown to capture a 7-3 lead.
Battle's 22-yard reception on the following series got the 49ers to the Saints 22, but once again the 49ers settled for a Joe Nedney field goal.
"The real frustrating thing about today is that I thought we moved the ball well, especially early; but then once we got into the red zone we just couldn't score," said Battle. "It's tough to go all the way down the field and then have the drive stall. If we had scored some touchdowns in the red zone we would have made it a game."
Several of Battle's early catches came on slant routes and hot reads as New Orleans showed up bound and determined to get after O'Sullivan.
"We knew coming in that they would blitz a lot and stack the line against us," said Battle. "But we were prepared for that. We had all the opportunities out there today with the hot routes to move the ball well. But once we got down into the red zone all that momentum for us stopped and cost us the game."
O'Sullivan ended up being sacked six times in the game, bringing the yearly total to 19 sacks.
"We've got to give JT as much time as he needs to complete the ball down field," said center Eric Heitmann. "I really don't feel like they were doing anything defensively we couldn't handle. We just have to protect better as an offensive line. There were obviously several plays out there today where we did not get that done."
Despite the sacks and the pressure, O'Sullivan insists that his decision making wasn't flustered.
"I feel good about getting the ball out of my hands fast when people bring pressure, I just do," said O'Sullivan. "I feel like we are on the same page. I feel like I see it well. I feel like the offensive line knows who they have and I know who I have. Unfortunately, it obviously didn't work out every single time but I felt the majority of the time we got the ball out to guys and had big plays on quick throws."
There were throws where O'Sullivan and his receiving corps weren't on the same page. In the second quarter on the three and out series, the 49ers faced a 3rd and 1. O'Sullivan took the snap and instantly let loose on a ball to Isaac Bruce that was way outside of his grasp.
"That was actually supposed to be a run play," said running back Frank Gore. "The safety came down so we checked to a hot read and we just didn't get it picked up."
Then, before Nedney's second field goal, O'Sullivan lobbed a 3rd and 9 throw to Bruce. Bruce wasn't even close to being out of his break by the time the ball bounced to the ground, and also looked to have turned the opposite way from the ball.
"We just need to hook that up. We need to be on the same page with that," said O'Sullivan.
O'Sullivan and Bruce eventually got on the same page late in the game on a 5-yard touchdown pass, but not until after O'Sullivan had been intercepted twice in the end zone.
"We had two interceptions as we were going into score in the redzone and that's tough," said Heitmann. "Those are tough to overcome but we've got to be able to bounce back from that. We made too many mistakes and we couldn't move the ball when we needed to. We have to look at the negatives when we watch film."
The first interception was an attempted throw to Bryant Johnson in the back of the end zone, but safety Kevin Kaesviharn leapt up and snagged the steal, returning it out to the 9-yardline. The Saints swiftly traveled 91 yards for a touchdown.
"I thought I threw it high enough over the guy's head," said O'Sullivan. "Obviously, I didn't."
Johnson, who didn't have a catch in the game, said he was just about to come open on the play.
"It was developing but we just weren't able to get the timing right on it," said Johnson. "That's something we can correct so that we don't make the same mistake again."
Unfortunately, the 49ers committed another mistake on the following series.
Allen Rossum got the kickoff return after the Saints score back to New Orleans 40-yardline, with Johnson then picking up 10 yards for the offense when he was tripped by a Saints defender. Back to back catches by Battle set the 49ers up at the 16-yardline, but O'Sullivan's next try for Battle was picked again in the end zone, this time by Tracy Porter.
"I am going to have to see it," said O'Sullivan of his second throw. "I don't have a good answer for what happened on that right now."
All in all the Saints scored two touchdowns off of the 49ers three offensive turnovers, while the 49ers only enjoyed the one trip to the end zone.
Johnson said his sore hamstring, which caused him to miss two days of practice last week, was a non-factor on the play, or in the game.