The New Orleans Saints defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-20 when Garrett Hartley kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before 73,025 fans.
Quarterback Drew Brees led the Saints on the game-winning drive, covering 47 yards in six plays to set up Hartley's winning kick. The drive got a boost when Quinton Patton of the 49ers hit Darren Sproles after he had called for a fair catch so the Saints started from the 40-yard line instead of the 25.
The Saints improved to 8-2 and remain unbeaten in six home games this season. The loss dropped San Francisco to 6-4.
New Orleans had to overcome three turnovers - a Lance Moore fumbled punt, a bizarre fumble of an interception out of the end zone and a Brees interception - that led to 17 of San Francisco's 20 points.
The game was a rememption of sorts for Hartley who had been criticized for missing four of his previous six kicks entering Sunday's game. But in addition to the game-winner he connected from 21 yards and 42 yards earlier in the fourth quarter.
"I love the way he responded," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. " Proud of him"
Brees was 30 of 43 for 305 yards and a touchdown to tight end Josh Hill (the first of his career) in the first half. Pierre Thomas was the leading rusher with 11 carries for 49 yards and five receptions for 35 yards. Marques Colston - who became the team's all-time leader in receiving and total yards during the game - had five catches for 80 yards including a big catch on the game-winning drive.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was 17 of 31 for 127 yards with two touchdown passes (Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin) and one interception (Corey White, in the crazy play that ended up with the 49ers getting the ball back on a touchback. Frank Gore was the team's leading rusher with 48 yards on 13 carries. Boldin was the team's leading receiver with six catches for 56 yards.
The Saints' defense had another outstanding effort holding San Francisco to 196 yards and just 12 first downs. The defense came up big on the 49ers' final possession as Junior Galette sacked Kaepernick on first down, Cameron Jordan almost forced a safety call on second down and then the Saints chased Kaepernick on third down, stopping the clock and giving the offense enough time to drive for the winning field goal.
On the game-winning drive Brees handed off to Darren Sproles for six yards then hit Jimmy Graham for a 9-yard gain and a first down. After an incomplete pass Brees hit Colston for a 20-yard gain to put the Saints in scoring position. Another 12-yard completion to Graham (six catches for 41 yards) set up Hartley's heroics.
The Saints now have an exceptionally short week to prepare for Thursday's game against the Atlanta Falcons (2-8) in the Georgia Dome. Carolina, second in the NFC South at 6-3, will play host to the New England Patriots (7-2) on "Monday Night Football."