NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans Saints offense left too much time on the clock for 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle on Sunday.
The 49ers’ defense, which has been dominant this season, could not protect the team’s lead late in the game. New Orleans marched 76 yards on seven plays to take the lead on Brees’ 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith.
But the 49ers still had 53 seconds to respond. And it turned out to be more than enough.
The offense came up big, setting the stage for Robbie Gould’s 30-yard field goal as time expired for a 48-46 victory over the Saints at the Superdome.
“It wasn’t anything different than usual,” Garoppolo said. “I thought everybody was calm on the sideline. We were all in a good state of mind. We went out there and executed. That’s really what it comes down to in those situations -- execution.”
A week earlier, the 49ers failed on a fourth-and-1 pass play in the late stages of their 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Again, the 49ers faced a critical fourth-down play with less than a minute remaining with the Saints leading by one point.
“Coach Shanahan said as an offense we feel like we lost the game last week,” Kittle said. “Fourth-and-1, we just couldn’t get it done. We have to learn to not put our defense in those positions. I think we did that today.
“It came down to us having to win the game, and I’m just happy we could get it done.”
Faced with a fourth-and-2 situation from their own 33, the 49ers had to use a timeout to set up the play because of difficulty dealing with the crowd noise.
“The guys kept battling,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We had to call a timeout right before. It was hard to hear the right play calls in the huddle just because they couldn’t hear through the microphone. I had to use a timeout there, and it quieted down so we could call that. It ended up being worth it because Kittle made a hell of a route, broke that tackle and taking it down the sideline.”
Garoppolo hit Kittle on a pass play for the first down when he got open with an outbreaking route against rookie C.J. Gardner-Johnson. After Kittle slipped through Gardner-Johnson’s tackle attempt, Kittle set his sights on safety Marcus Williams.
“Once he caught it and turned upfield and squared the guy up, I didn’t know what he was going to do, but I knew the guy was in a bad situation on the other side,” Garoppolo said. “George is a beast with the ball in his hands, so it’s just get him the ball in space, let him go to work.”
When it was over, Kittle had rumbled 39 yards while carrying Williams for the final 20 yards with him. Williams finally brought Kittle down with the use of his facemask to add another 15 yards onto the play to set up Gould’s short field-goal attempt.
“George is a beast,” 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “It took them to almost rip his neck off for them to bring him down. He’s the best in the world.”
Veteran tackle Joe Staley said the game reminded him of the playoff matchup against the Saints at Candlestick Park in January 2012. There were four lead changes in the final four minutes of that game. The 49ers took over trailing with 97 seconds remaining and pulled off the 36-32 victory on Alex Smith’s last-second touchdown pass to Vernon Davis.
“It was kind of eerie how they scored late and we still had that time to come down and get some points,” Staley said. “We were fortunate we had enough time left on the clock. And we were able to execute ... and we got George Kittle.”