NEW ORLEANS - A reprieve for mercurial quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Redemption for indomitable linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
Kaepernick completed a 51-yard pass on fourth down to sustain a tying drive in the final minutes of regulation, Brooks sacked and stripped Drew Brees in overtime, and Phil Dawson kicked a 35-yard field goal to cap San Francisco’s stirring 27-24 victory over New Orleans on Sunday.
The victory snapped a two-game skid for the Niners (5-4) and marked the first home loss for the Saints (4-5) in more than a season.
“It was paramount for us to come out with a win,” San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley said. “You don’t like to say must-win, but it was a must-win game. We looked at that game as a playoff game, and we had that mind set coming in.”
Even after the Niners tied it on Dawson’s 45-yard field goal with 44 seconds left, the Saints nearly won on the final play of regulation. Brees heaved a long toss that Graham, who played college basketball, leaped up and caught in the end zone — but the star tight end was called for pass interference after appearing to shove defensive back Perrish Cox to the turf.
“Definitely not a push off. I’m running down the field and I’m telling myself not to push off. Whatever you do, don’t push off. Just go up and get it,” Graham said. “It’s interesting, you know, how guys grab me everywhere on the field and I put literally two fingers on somebody and you make that kind of call. That’s why I switched. That’s why I left basketball, so I could stop being penalized for hitting people.”
Brooks’ decisive blow on his sack of Brees had to feel like poetic justice to the Niners’ defensive stalwart. His unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a vicious sack and strip in the Superdome a year ago allowed the Saints to pull out a late comeback victory.
This time, Brooks’ play set up Dawson’s winning kick with 5:14 remaining in overtime.
“God smiled down on me today,” Brooks said. “I was rushing and turning the corner thinking, ‘Dang, is he going to throw the ball yet?’ But he didn’t, and I was able to make the play.”
Broncos 41, Raiders 17: In Oakland, Peyton Manning threw five touchdown passes in less than 17 minutes as Denver handed the Raiders their 15th straight loss.
Cardinals 31, Rams 14: In Glendale, Arizona, the Cardinals put together another dominant fourth quarter, but the victory was dampened by an injury to quarterback Carson Palmer.
Packers 55, Bears 14: In Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdown passes to equal the Packers game record and match the NFL record for a half.
Seahawks 38, Giants 17: In Seattle, Marshawn Lynch rushed for 140 yards and career-best four touchdowns.
Jets 20, Steelers 13: In East Rutherford, New Jersey, Michael Vick threw two touchdown passes as the Jets forced four turnovers while shutting down Ben Roethlisberger.
Vick, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to run for 6,000 career yards, threw touchdown passes to T.J. Graham and Jace Amaro.
Lions 20, Dolphins 16: In Detroit, Matthew Stafford led the Lions to another thrilling victory in the final minutes, throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Theo Riddick with 29 seconds remaining.
Chiefs 17, Bills 13: In Orchard, Park, New York, Anthony Sherman recovered a fumble to set up Alex Smith’s 8-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Cowboys 31, Jaguars 17: In London, Tony Romo returned after missing last week because of a back injury to help Dallas end a two-game losing streak by throwing three touchdown passes.
Ravens 21, Titans 7: In Baltimore, Justin Forsett ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns to back a strong performance by the Ravens defense.
Falcons 27, Buccaneers 17: In Tampa, Matt Ryan threw for 219 yards and one touchdown.