NEW ORLEANS – Linebacker Ahmad Brooks came tantalizingly close to providing the 49ers with a game-saving play and a possible defining moment for the defense late in the fourth quarter.
Instead, referee Tony Corrente ruled Brooks struck New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the neck.
The resulting fumble, which 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis recovered at the 45-yard line, was overturned. And the Saints picked up a first down and moved 15 yards closer to the game-tying field goal.
New Orleans went on to get a defensive stop against the 49ers and Garrett Hartley kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired for a 23-20 victory in front of the home crowd at the Superdome.
“I felt like I hit him with my chest, like I basically bear-hugged him kind of hard,” Brooks said of the critical play.
Said 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, “I talked to Ahmad. Ahmad didn’t think that he hit him in the head.”
But the ruling was that the Brooks made contact with the neck area. Replays showed that Brooks initially made contact with his right arm around Brees chest and shoulder area. But his biceps continued upward to finish at Brees’ neck.
“I’m going full speed and he (Brees) is going full speed,” Brooks said. “And at the last second, he ducked his shoulder. So I don’t think I could’ve done anything differently.
“I maybe could’ve tackled him lower, but I’m running around the edge and turning the corner, and I’m trying to get to him and then I’m trying to knock the ball out of hands because I’m thinking he’s trying to throw the ball.”
Added Brooks, “He (Brees) felt it, I saw his lip bleed.”
The penalty gave the Saints a first down at the 49ers’ 30-yard line. They eventually settled for Hartley’s game-tying 42-yard field goal.
After the 49ers’ offense was stopped on a three-and-out, the Saints moved the ball 47 yards on six plays six plays to set up Hartley’s game-winning field goal.