What We Learned from 49ers vs. Saints

Select images from the San Francisco 49ers matchup with the New Orleans Saints in the "Big Easy."

NEW ORLEANS -- The San Francisco 49ers entered Sunday's NFC matchup with the New Orleans Saints with a playoff mentality.

It showed.

Backs against the wall at several points throughout the game, San Francisco dug deep to snap its two-game skid in one of the most hostile enviornments in the NFL.

The 49ers earned dramatic, 27-24, overtime victory to give the Saints their first home loss since Dec. 30, 2012.

After trading empty possessions through the early portion of the extra period, the 49ers got an enormous defensive play from Ahmad Brooks. On 2nd-and-15 from the Saints 15-yard line, Brooks came off of the edge and strip sacked Drew Brees.

Chris Borland recovered the loose ball and Phil Dawson nailed a 35-yard field goal to end the game.

Here's what we learned in the victory that put the 49ers at 5-4 on the season. 
Kap's Game-saver

Trailing by three after the Saints took their first lead of the day on a Jimmy Graham 2-yard touchdown catch, Kaepernick made a jaw-dropping play to keep the 49ers hopes alive on their ensuing possession.

On 4th-and-10 after drops on each of the first three downs, Kaepernick rolled to his right and somehow found Michael Crabtree behind the secondary on the opposite side of the field.

Kaepernick fired down the field and Crabtree made the catch for a 51-yard gain. Three plays later, Dawson drilled a 45-yard field goal to tie the game.

The Saints nearly won the game in regulation when Graham hauled in a Hail Mary pass in the end zone as time expired, but referees called the tight end for offensive pass interference on Perrish Cox.

Bethea's INT Sets up Offense

Antoine Bethea provided a huge momentum swing just minutes into the game. The veteran strong safety intercepted Brees on a third-down on pass. In fact, it was the third play of the game. The 49ers safety returned the ball to New Orleans' 19-yard line.

From there, Frank Gore scored on 4-yard touchdown run around left side of the line. It was Gore's first touchdown run since Week 2.

Gore continued to be a weapon in the game. He finished the day with 22 carries for 81 hard-earned yards against a stout rush defense. Although the big numbers weren't there, Gore's workload allowed the 49ers to chew up clock and keep Brees and the high-powered Saints passing attack off the field. SF's Clutch Second Drive

Kaepernick got the chains moving on a 79-yard scoring drive to make it a 14-0 game. He converted a trio of third downs: two by arm, one by foot. Kaepernick completed a 13-yard pass to Anquan Boldin for one. He scrambled for 19 yards for another and later connected with Michael Crabtree for a 5-yard gain for the third.

Rookie running back Pierre Garçon capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run. Like Gore's scoring run, San Francisco's backup runner found pay dirt around the left side of the field.

The 49ers had a short field to work with on their opening scoring drive. The second scoring possession required key moments on third down. Saints Respond

Down by 14, Brees dialed up a 40-yard pass to rookie receiver Brandin Cooks and a 12-yard pass to Marques Colston on third downs to put New Orleans on San Francisco's 23-yard line.

The Saints got on the board with a 40-yard Shayne Graham field goal. The score was 14-3 with three seconds left in the first quarter.

New Orleans scored on its next drive with a 31-yard Brees touchdown pass to Cooks, who ran past slot cornerback Jimmie Ward. Both players had their feet tangled inside the 10-yard line, but it was the Saints receiver who was able to keep his footing and haul in the pass. Ward, on the other hand, tumbled to the ground.

Cooks won the key battle in the rookie-on-rookie matchup and made it a 14-10 score. Darts to Boldin

Boldin caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick, it was one of several pinpoint passes in the first half. In fact, Boldin caught five of Kaepernick's first eight completions. Boldin posted 86 yards in the first half. Three other targets (Stevie Johnson, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree) totaled three catches for 32 yards.

The Boldin score marked Kaepernick's 16th consecutive game with a touchdown pass.   Turnover Sequence Ends First Half

Kaepernick fumbled the ball with 1:13 left in the first half, teeing up Brees inside of San Francisco territory. The 49ers quarterback was stripped from behind as he was trying to step up in the pocket and avoid Saints rusher defensive end Tyrunn Walker. San Francisco's right guard, Alex Boone, appeared to have a shot at recovering the ball but it bounced away from the lineman and right by Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who promptly jumped on top to secure possession for the home team.

Brees appeared to have the Saints on the march, but a downfield throw into triple coverage was a bad idea. Cornerback Chris Culliver cut in front of Graham to intercept Brees in the end zone and ensure Kaepernick's fumble would not lead to any points.

The 49ers led 21-10 at the half.  Lynch Makes First Start; Borland Makes Third

With Joe Staley and Dan Skuta inactive, two rookies started in their place. Aaron Lynch made his first NFL start; Borland made his third consecutive start.

Lynch finished the game with six tackles. Borland led San Francisco with 17 stops, and of course, the overtime fumble recovery.  Williams, Ellington Carted Off

San Francisco's starting nose tackle, Ian Williams, suffered a leg injury in the second quarter and was replaced by second-year defensive lineman Quinton Dial.  

Williams was joined on the cart by a rookie teammate.

Bruce Ellington, the 49ers punt and kick returner, suffered an ankle injury on a second-quarter return. The rookie receiver was carted off of the field and replaced in the return game by cornerback Perrish Cox at punt returner and Hyde at kick returner.

Both Williams and Ellington were initially ruled questionable to return, but they were later ruled out as the third quarter got underway. Chase Thomas Debuts

The former practice squad linebacker was called up to the active roster on Saturday.

On Sunday, Thomas lined up on kick-off cover and punt return. He made his first NFL tackle on San Francisco's third kickoff in the first quarter, up 14-0.

It was a nice moment for the outside linebacker who started his NFL career with the Saints as an undrafted free agent.

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