NEW ORLEANS—It was a play few in the NFL would attempt, much less make.
Fourth and 10, trailing by 3 with a minute to play, the mercurial 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick rolled to his right, avoiding Saints pass-rushers before planting and heaving the ball across his body 70 yards in the air to a wide-open Michael Crabtree.
After that, the remainder of the script played-out just as it should.
Following kicker Phil Dawson’s game-tying 45-yard field goal, quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints drove the ball to the San Francisco 48, setting-up Brees’ Hail Mary toss to towering tight-end Jimmy Graham, who pulled in the miraculous touchdown amidst a crowd of San Francisco defensive backs.
Flag on the play, Graham is penalized for pushing-off 49er defensive back Perish Cox. With regulation now over, the Saints win the ball and the coin-toss.
In overtime, Brees is stripped by linebacker Ahmad Brooks, the same player whose controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a vicious strip-sack of Brees a year ago allowed the Saints to retain possession and drive for a comeback victory.
But in this edition of Saints-Niners, San Francisco earned a clean fumble recovery, allowing Dawson to put the winning points through the uprights. Ball game over, season saved, poetic justice served. The 49ers snapped their skid and held on in a tightly-contested NFC playoff race.
In the wake of ugly losses to Denver and St. Louis, SF pulled-off the improbable 27-24 road victory, stunning a Superdome crowd that had not seen their hometown Saints lose for 11 consecutive games.
The victory came in true 49ers fashion; featuring relentless, turnover-forcing defense and a consistent, punishing ground-game led by the seemingly ageless Frank Gore and rookie Carlos Hyde.
Now 5-4, the immediate future looks brighter for the previously underachieving 49ers that face two very winnable games with the Giants and Redskins.
After that, the road isn’t easy, especially considering the potential absence of all-pro linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman.
Apart from an away game with the winless Raiders, the remaining schedule features two tough match-ups with rival Seattle, followed by home tilts with San Diego and division-leading Arizona, games the Niners must win if they hope to keep pace in the NFC West.