It seemed as if Michael Crabtree would be a non-factor in another 49ers loss when, late in Sunday’s game, the wide receiver and quarterback Colin Kaepernick connected on easily the biggest offensive play in what would turn into a 49ers win.
With the 49ers trailing by three points and facing fourth and 10 on San Francisco’s final drive in regulation, Kaepernick scrambled to his right, kept surveying downfield and eventually saw Crabtree on the other side deep down the field.
Crabtree has been someone the quarterback routinely targets in must-have situations, even if those situations typically have ended in heartbreak for the 49ers. This time, the duo came through, with Kaepernick flinging a 51-yard pass to the middle of the field and Crabtree snatching it just above the turf at the New Orleans 27-yard line.
Kaepernick did not complete any other passes on that drive or in overtime, but the completion to Crabtree – the longest for either team Sunday – was enough to set up Phil Dawson’s 45-yard field goal that sent the game to overtime.
Crabtree had two catches for 11 yards to that point, and Kaepernick said he wasn’t the first option on that play, either.
“It turned into a scramble,” Kaepernick said. “Crab made a great play getting across the field and the offensive line did a great job giving me a lot of time. He was like the third or fourth guy I looked at while I was scrambling. And I was real happy when I saw how wide open he was. I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m glad it ended up that way.”
Said 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh: “That wasn’t the intent of the play. Colin does a great job of that. I’m glad he did it that way. I am glad that he has the arm strength to get it that far.”
Both Crabtree’s catch and linebacker Ahmad Brooks’ forced fumble near the end of the game masked another ugly second-half effort for the 49ers. The first-team offense has yet to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter this season and didn’t come close against the Saints.
All three of the team’s touchdowns came in the first half, as the 49ers opened the game in power-running mode.
Frank Gore, a forgotten man in recent weeks, carried the ball 23 times for 81 yards. Notably, he and fellow tailback Carlos Hyde got the ball in the red zone with Gore scoring on a 4-yard run and Hyde on a 9-yard run.
“Whenever you establish the run with those two guys, you set the tone,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. “We gave the offensive line a chance to show what they can do, and they created a lot of holes. All of those guys made plays. And we look forward to continuing that.”
Williams injured – Nose tackle Ian Williams and return man Bruce Ellington left the game late in the second quarter because of injuries, and Harbaugh said after the game that Williams may have broken a bone in his left leg.
Williams, who sat out all of 2013 after breaking his left ankle in Week 2, walked off the field, but he was later carted into the 49ers’ locker room and did not return. He was wearing an orthopedic boot after the game.
Quinton Dial filled in at nose tackle. He finished with two tackles, including a sack of Drew Brees in overtime. He’s an option next week against the New York Giants, as is Glenn Dorsey, who began practicing with the 49ers two weeks ago but has not yet been placed on the active roster.
Dorsey suffered a torn biceps Aug. 1 and has been practicing with a brace on his left arm.
“We’ll see,” Harbaugh said of Dorsey’s availability. “This past week (he) had a good week of practice. We’ll see if he can build on that and see as the week goes on.”
Ellington, a fourth-round draft pick in May, had to be helped to the sideline after he was tackled awkwardly on a punt return. Perrish Cox filled in on punt returns; Hyde handled kickoffs.
Et cetera – Tank Carradine, the 40th overall pick in the 2013 draft, was in uniform for only the second time in his career and recorded his first NFL tackle. Carradine was active in Week 2 but did not play any snaps on defense.
▪ A week after recording 18 tackles – a game-high in the NFL this year – linebacker Chris Borland had 17 against the Saints. The rookie was filling in for Patrick Willis, who missed his third straight game because of a toe injury.
▪ Boldin led all receivers with 95 yards on six catches. He caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, but he also had at least four drops. Tight end Vernon Davis had one drop and finished with one catch for 8 yards.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.