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Two costly defensive penalties kept New Orleans Saints on field during critical fourth-quarter drive against San Francisco

Drive ended with a touchdown and 42-33 lead by 49ers

The New Orleans Saints host the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, December 8, 2019.
The New Orleans Saints host the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, December 8, 2019.

It wasn't a good day to be playing defense.

That much was evident by the final score Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, when the New Orleans Saints dropped a 48-46 thriller to San Francisco, a game that wasn't decided until the 49ers kicked a field goal as time expired.

So it stands to reason that, for the Saints (10-3), one of the pivotal moments came via the defense's inability to force a punt, or then to hold San Francisco to a field goal, with both opportunities happening on the same fourth-quarter drive.

San Francisco's possession actually began with 56 seconds left in the third quarter and leaked over into the beginning of the fourth, where the Niners were third-and-7 from their own 48-yard line. On that play, defensive end Marcus Davenport and linebacker Demario Davis combined to sack Jimmy Garoppolo for a 5-yard loss that would have forced a punt, but as the teammates were celebrating, a flag in the secondary ended the euphoria.

Defensive holding, attributed to rookie C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Automatic first down.

The Niners worked their way to the Saints' 14-yard line and there, facing third-and-8, the Saints came up with another stop. Garoppolo threw a pass short right to fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who was tackled by Gardner-Johnson. But another penalty was assessed – an unnecessary roughness foul on Gardner-Johnson for a blow to the head – and instead of San Francisco kicking a field goal and taking a 38-33 lead, Garoppolo threw a touchdown pass two plays later to hand New Orleans a 42-33 deficit with 8:59 left.

There still were opportunities for the Saints afterward; New Orleans eventually took a 46-45 lead on Drew Brees' 18-yard touchdown pass to Tre'Quan Smith with 53 seconds left before the 49ers' final drive.

But the San Francisco drive that morphed from a punt and no points allowed, to a stop and possibly three points allowed, to a touchdown and seven points allowed, was significant.

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