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  • Dave Martin / The Associated Press

    Wide receiver Anquan Boldin spikes the ball after his 11-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. The play was set up by a muffed punt.

  • Dave Martin / The Associated Press

    Vernon Davis scores a touchdown that gave the 49ers a third-quarter lead despite the efforts of New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins.

  • Dave Martin / The Associated Press

    Ahmad Brooks forces Saints quarterback Drew Brees to fumble. The fumble appeared to stop the drive, as the 49ers recovered, but Brooks was called for a hit to the neck area of Brees, and the Saints drove for the tying field goal.

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  • Week 11: Video highlights from Saints 23, 49ers 20
  • More information Saints 23, 49ers 20
    San Francisco0107320
    New Orleans770923
    First Quarter NO—Hill 3 pass from Brees (Hartley kick), :44. Second Quarter SF—Boldin 11 pass from Kaepernick (Dawson kick), 10:16. SF—FG Dawson 55, 3:34. NO—Collins 1 run (Hartley kick), 1:58. Third Quarter SF—V.Davis 17 pass from Kaepernick (Dawson kick), 10:52. Fourth Quarter SF—FG Dawson 29, 13:23. NO—FG Hartley 21, 7:50. NO—FG Hartley 42, 2:06. NO—FG Hartley 31, :00. A—73,025.
    First downs1223
    Total Net Yards196387
    Punt Returns2-233-5
    Kickoff Returns0-01-82
    Interceptions Ret.1-221-43
    Sacked-Yards Lost3-121-10
    Time of Possession25:2134:39
    INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS RUSHING—San Francisco, Gore 13-48, Kaepernick 3-25, James 2-7, Hunter 4-1. New Orleans, Thomas 11-49, Ingram 6-25, Sproles 3-16, Collins 2-3, Brees 1-(minus 1). PASSING—San Francisco, Kaepernick 17-31-1-127. New Orleans, Brees 30-43-1-305. RECEIVING—San Francisco, Boldin 6-56, V.Davis 4-33, Gore 2-8, Miller 2-8, V.McDonald 1-10, Manningham 1-8, James 1-4. New Orleans, Graham 6-41, Colston 5-80, Thomas 5-35, Sproles 4-19, Moore 3-23, Meachem 2-78, Stills 1-11, Toon 1-8, Ingram 1-4, Collins 1-3, Hill 1-3. MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.

Controversial call costs 49ers in loss to Saints

Published: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 - 12:08 am
Last Modified: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 - 4:35 pm

Jim Harbaugh, who nearly complained himself hoarse the last time he was in the Superdome, seemed to have plenty to be steamed about after another tough loss in New Orleans on Sunday.

Leading by three points late in the fourth quarter and needing a big third-down play against a driving Saints squad, the 49ers appeared to get just that when Ahmad Brooks blew around the Saints’ right tackle and knocked the ball from quarterback Drew Brees’ grasp. Patrick Willis recovered it at San Francisco’s 45-yard line with 3:18 left to play.

But as Brooks started to celebrate, he noticed a yellow flag drop in from behind the play. The penalty was on him for illegal contact to the neck area of the quarterback. Instead of the 49ers getting the ball or even saddling New Orleans with a long fourth-down field-goal attempt, the Saints were given a first down at the San Francisco 30-yard line.

Five plays later, Garrett Hartley tied the game with a 42-yard field goal. Then, following a three-and-out series by the 49ers, Hartley won it, 23-20, on a 31-yard field goal as time expired.

“The game could have gone in a totally different direction,” Brooks said of the fourth-quarter penalty. “... We lost the game, and that’s probably the reason why.”

The loss not only put the 49ers 31/2 games behind the Seahawks in the division, it dropped them into a tie with the Cardinals, Lions and Bears, all of which have 6-4 records. The Panthers also would be 6-4 with a loss tonight against the Patriots.

“I’m proud of guys, the way they fight,” Harbaugh said after the game. “If we continue to fight like that, we’re going to win games. We’re going to win a lot of games.”

The 49ers’ offense, which managed only three field goals in last week’s loss to Carolina, was better against the Saints. But there were few long drives, and both San Francisco touchdowns were set up by takeaways deep in Saints territory.

The first occurred in the second quarter when New Orleans punt returner Lance Moore muffed a punt and Ray Ventrone pounced on the loose ball at the New Orleans 11-yard line.

Two plays later, Colin Kaepernick connected in the end zone with Anquan Boldin on a back-shoulder pass, their first touchdown connection since Week 4.

In the third quarter, Brooks – who returned an interception for a touchdown last year in New Orleans – nearly did the same when he thwarted a short dump-off attempt by Brees. Brooks intercepted the pass and returned it 22 yards to the Saints’ 22-yard line.

On second and 16, Kaepernick rolled right, stepped back and found Vernon Davis alone for a 17-yard touchdown pass.

Even a 55-yard Phil Dawson field goal in the second quarter was set up by a turnover. A would-be interception and touchdown by Saints backup cornerback Corey White turned into a touchback for the 49ers after Kaepernick hustled to the pylon. With Kaepernick closing in, White fumbled the ball out of the side of the end zone, giving the 49ers the ball at their own 20-yard line.

But the fourth-quarter turnover that was taken away proved to be the difference.

Replays showed Brooks avoiding helmet-to-helmet contact with Brees as he wrapped his right arm around the quarterback’s upper torso. At that point, his arm slid up and under Brees’ neck.

Brooks said Brees’ mouth was bleeding after the play, but he called the penalty a “b.s. call.” Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio also said it was an incorrect call.

“It was a big play for us – it would have been a big play for us,” Willis said.

Nine months ago, Harbaugh was on the opposite sideline screaming for a holding call against the Ravens as three straight passes from Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree in the end zone landed incomplete and the 49ers fell in the Super Bowl.

This time Harbaugh had to watch as the defense held the NFC’s highest scoring offense to 23 points and allowed one of the league’s most prolific quarterbacks to throw just one touchdown pass but still lost.

Said Willis: “There’s no moral victories for us. Our goal is 17 points or less. And we let up 23.”

Read Matthew Barrows’ blogs at and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.

Read more articles by Mathew Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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