Don’t call it karma, Ahmad Brooks insisted Sunday after San Francisco’s 27-24 overtime win in New Orleans. Call it Kryptonite.
“I’m not trying to stir up anything,” the 49ers outside linebacker said. “But I might be Drew Brees’ Kryptonite.”
By now, Brees probably agrees.
For the second straight year, a late-game encounter between Brooks and the Saints quarterback ended up being the pivotal play. This time, Brooks’ sack and forced fumble at the New Orleans 17-yard line in overtime wasn’t voided by penalty, and on the next play Phil Dawson kicked a 35-yard field goal that gave San Francisco (5-4) the win and kept alive its playoff hopes.
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With the win, the 49ers halted an 11-game home winning streak by the Saints, ended their own two-game losing streak and also appeared to shake off the bad luck that hung over them like a wet blanket in last week’s loss to the St. Louis Rams, a game in which calls on three ambiguous would-be scoring plays all went against the 49ers.
This time, the calls went in their favor.
The Saints appeared to snatch a last-second victory in regulation when Brees’ favorite receiving target, Jimmy Graham, came down with a Hail Mary heave in the end zone. Officials ruled, however, that the 6-foot-7 tight end shoved cornerback Perrish Cox before the ball arrived, and the game went to overtime.
“It’s interesting – how guys grab me everywhere on the field and I literally put two fingers on a guy and they make that call,” Graham said afterward. “That’s why I left basketball (so) I’d stop being penalized for hitting people.”
Brooks’ sack was reviewed to see whether Brees’ arm was moving forward, which would have given the Saints the ball back with a little over five minutes to play. It wasn’t, and the 49ers took over.
“It kind of is poetic justice that he made the play there,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of Brooks. “The referees got it right this time.”
Last week, a national report said the 49ers tried to deal Brooks to Cleveland before the Oct. 28 trade deadline, something the 49ers have denied and Brooks said he paid little attention to. Still, the report made sense considering Brooks’ middling performance so far this season and the fact that his salary-cap figure jumps to an untenable $9 million next season.
On Sunday, however, he was the 49ers’ indispensable man.
The team started the game without defensive regulars Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Dan Skuta, then lost starting nose tackle Ian Williams to what coach Jim Harbaugh said was a possible fractured leg.
At one point in the game, the team’s front seven looked like it belonged in the second half of a preseason game with Tony Jerod-Eddie, Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine playing on the defensive line and Chris Borland, Michael Wilhoite and Aaron Lynch among the linebackers.
The 49ers led 21-10 at halftime. Brees and the Saints went on two long touchdown drives in the second half. The second touchdown – on a 2-yard pass to Graham – gave New Orleans its first lead in the game with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
But the 49ers’ no-name defense held up in overtime, forcing the Saints to punt on their opening possession and then getting to Brees when he was given a second try. Dial, who was filling in at nose tackle, sacked the quarterback on first down, which led to Brooks’ heroics on second down.
Brooks always has family in the stands when the 49ers play in the Superdome, and he always makes big plays. His late father, Perry Brooks, grew up in Angie, La., and played football at Southern University.
In a 2012 49ers win, he intercepted a Brees pass and ran 50 yards for a touchdown for the only score of his career. Last year with the 49ers leading by three points late in the contest, Brooks crashed into Brees and forced a fumble that likely would have preserved a San Francisco win. Instead, he was flagged for roughing the passer and the Saints kicked a game-tying field goal, and later a game-winning field goal as time expired.
What does he think about how Sunday’s game ended?
“One of my teammates came up to me on the sidelines after that happened and he said, ‘karma is real,’” Brooks said. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t believe in karma.’ You know what I mean? But that play was real similar to last year in a sense.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.