New Orleans Saints fans everywhere rejoiced when kicker Garrett Hartley knocked in a 31-yard field goal in the final seconds of the second quarter to defeat the San Francisco 49ers and improve to 8-2. New Orleans still has control of the NFC South and the second best record in the NFC, but the Carolina Panthers (6-3) have yet to play their Monday night matchup against the New England Patriots and are nipping at the Saints’ heels. At least Carolina cannot pull even just yet.
Although New Orleans came away with a 23-20 win over San Francisco, the sad thing is that it should not have been that close. The Saints were by and large the better team that day, on offense and defense. New Orleans out gained the 49ers on the ground, through the air, through first downs and dominated the time of possession.
What happened was that New Orleans turned the ball over three times. That was three times more than they should have.
The first turnover came on a second quarter punt return fumble by receiver Lance Moore. We all know Moore. He is usually pretty solid and reliable. Heck, he’s even the guy who helped New Orleans get that crucial two-point conversion in the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, today, he fumbled an easy punt catch and gave San Francisco’s offense a very short field with which to work from.
Normally, versatile running back Darren Sproles returns punts, but he briefly left the game prior to this punt with what looked to be an ankle injury that was not very serious.
The next turnover came off of a Corey White interception. White picked off 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and almost returned it for a score. However, as he neared the end zone, he appeared to have lost control of the ball in the heat of the moment and fumbled it into the back of the end zone as he was being closed in on by Kaepernick, which resulted in a touchback and gave the ball back to San Francisco. The ball should have been secured long before it appeared he was going to be met by Kaepernick, or he should have gone out of bounds and given Drew Brees and company a very short field to work with.
The final turnover came off of a lazy throw by Brees in the third quarter. Out of the pocket and trying to avoid the oncoming rush, Brees tried to loft a ball to one of his receivers but was picked off by linebacker Ahmad Brooks. This was just a bad decision by Brees, but one that could have been avoided nonetheless.
The bummer about all of these turnovers? The 49ers scored after each and every one of them.
Hopefully Sean Payton will stress the need for ball security and sound decision-making in the upcoming week of practices. The Saints were fortunate to come away with a victory this time, but could have easily ended up the other way.