NEW ORLEANS – Quarterback Colin Kaepernick made a critical mental error late in the game that could have prevented the 49ers from an opportunity to force overtime.
The clock-management miscue provided the New Orleans Saints with enough breathing room to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired for a 23-20 victory over the 49ers at the Superdome.
Tied 20-20 and faced with a third-and-19 situation from the 49ers’ 11, Kaepernick began to scramble along the left sideline.
Instead of sliding inbounds to keep the clock running, Kaepernick continued and was forced out of bounds by a hit from New Orleans Saints cornerback Chris Carr – 3 yards shy of the first-down marker.
With 1:48 remaining in regulation, the Saints would’ve been forced to call their final timeout or 40 seconds would have expired before Andy Lee’s punt.
“I was trying to turn the corner and get the first down,” Kaepernick explained.
The 49ers’ special teams made another critical mistake when Kassim Osgood was called for hitting Saints return man Darren Sproles after he signaled a fair catch. The 15-yard penalty gave the Saints the ball at their own 40 with 1:41 remaining. Six plays and 47 yards later, Garrett Hartley kicked the game-winning field goal.
The 49ers made a lot of critical mistakes in all areas that added up to their second disheartening loss at the Superdome in 10 ½ months. The 49ers lost Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens in February.
Running back Frank Gore had a difficult day with just 48 yards rushing on 13 attempts. But the play he was bemoaning afterward was a dropped pass in the middle of the fourth quarter that could’ve gone for big yards along the left sideline as Kaepernick escaped the rush and rolled to his left.
“I got to make that play,” Gore said. “I’m a better player than that. I just dropped it. We would’ve won the game.”
Although it might not have had any bearing on the game, the 49ers continued to struggle with their ability to get the ball snapped on time. When asked why the 49ers continue to struggle in that area, Kaepernick said it’s a byproduct of getting multiple playcalls in the huddle and various options based on what he sees at the line of scrimmage.
“We have a lot on our plate, as far as what we’re trying to get done,” Kaepernick said.
The 49ers also did not have their act together within the coaching staff. The 49ers wasted both of their replay challenges in the first half. Harbaugh said he spoke with senior offensive consultant Eric Mangini, who previously served as head coach of the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, before making his decisions to throw the red flags.
The 49ers challenged a first-quarter play, claiming Saints quarterback Drew Brees was over the line of scrimmage on an 8-yard pass play. Replays showed Brees was not even close to being over the line.
“We didn’t have a video review on the first one,” Harbaugh admitted.
The 49ers lost another challenge in the second quarter on a pass in the end zone on which wide receiver Jon Baldwin had both feet inbounds but failed to secure the reception after hitting the ground. The incomplete pass was confirmed with the review, which showed Baldwin was not able to maintain control all the way through the catch.
“We knew he was in. We knew there was a question whether the ball was bobbling and we decided to challenge it,” Harbaugh said.
The 49ers scored a touchdown on the next play, as Kaepernick hit Anquan Boldin on an 11-yard scoring pass.
The 49ers are just two of six on replay challenges this season. Last season, the 49ers were successful on just three of their nine reviews.