NEW ORLEANS – Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the 49ers’ offensive line drew most of the heat after the team’s disastrous loss to the St. Louis Rams a week earlier.
After the 49ers’ bounce-back victory over the New Orleans Saints, they received plenty of praise for helping get the team back on track.
The 49ers featured the run game early and demonstrated a degree of balance in their 27-24 overtime victory to ultimately silence one of the loudest crowds in the NFL.
“We did some really good things offensively,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was very good in a very tough place to play.”
If not for some dropped passes – including what would have likely been an 85-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin – the statistics would have been more impressive. With several misplays, the 49ers continued to struggle to score points in the second half.
But the team’s no-name defense came through. Rookie Chris Borland, playing in place of injured Patrick Willis, recorded a game-high 17 tackles and recovered the fumble that set-up Phil Dawson’s game-winning 35-yard field goal.
The lone regular starting linebacker to see action, Ahmad Brooks, provided the big play with the sack/strip of Saints quarterback Drew Brees in overtime.
The defense’s performance was impressive, considering who was not on the field.
Willis, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman and Dan Skuta, who filled in on base downs during Smith’s nine-game suspension, did not suit up. Nose tackle Ian Williams left just before the half with what Jim Harbaugh said was a likely fracture in his left leg.
“The last time we played an offense this good was Denver, and we didn’t play very well and we wanted to come out and play better than we did that game,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said.
In the first half, the 49ers’ offense was almost exactly what everyone was expecting when the season started. The 49ers featured a mix of power running with Colin Kaepernick converting third downs with his arm and legs.
“It was nice to see that,” Harbaugh said. “I thought we were effective in the running game. Greg Roman called an outstanding game, as he always does. He’s a great coordinator. (It was a) heck of a good game plan and well-executed by the players.”
Frank Gore rushed for 81 yards and his first touchdown since Week 2 on 23 rushing attempts. Rookie Carlos Hyde added 36 yards on four attempts. The 49ers had 144 yards rushing.
“This is what we said we were going to do and we did it,” 49ers right guard Alex Boone said. “And G-Ro stuck to the game plan and everybody up front kind of mounted up. We knew it was going to be on us this week. We had to come in here and ground and pound and we did a hell of a job doing it.”
Rookie center Marcus Martin came through with a solid showing after a rough NFL debut a week earlier. He seemed to be under control and the crowd noise did not appear to cause the 49ers any problems.
“I thought he was really on his game,” Harbaugh said. “He was really poised with the noise.”
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was sacked eight times a week earlier in the loss to the Rams. He generally had time to throw but was still sacked four times against a blitzing Saints defense. But he also had one big play as well as the one near-miss to Boldin.
The big play came at the biggest possible moment. The 49ers trailed 24-21 with 1:34 remaining in regulation. Faced with a fourth-and-10 situation and, perhaps, the season hanging in the balance, Kaepernick escaped some pressure, rolled right, set his feet and fired a 51-yard pass to Michael Crabtree to set up the tying field goal.
“Great team win,” Gore said. “New Orleans was playing good ball. We know it was a must-win.”