In a preview of a possible NFC championship game, and a definite candidate for game of the year, the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints battled for supremacy to the last possible second. Thanks to a final-play field goal, the Niners emerged victorious 48-46 and got even closer to clinching their division.
Hotly contested battle
Once this game started, it didn’t let up for a single second — it was a hotly contested matchup between two great teams that just kept making plays when it counted. Four of the first five possessions of the game resulted in a touchdown, and there were eight touchdowns in the first half. By the end of the first quarter, Saints quarterback Drew Brees had three TD passes, which tied him with Tom Brady for second on the all-time list. Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t tie any records, but he threw a gorgeous 75-yard touchdown pass to start the second quarter — one of three San Francisco TDs in that quarter.
San Francisco held a 28-27 lead at the end of the first half, but its offense slowed down in the second half. The third quarter featured just one Niners TD and two Saints field goals. The Niners broke through in the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown on a 14-play drive that took nearly seven minutes and gave them their biggest lead of the game with eight minutes left. A touchdown with just under a minute left put the Saints up 46-45, but a miraculous 39-yard catch-and-run from George Kittle (and a badly timed penalty on the Saints) helped the Niners get in position for the game-winning field goal.
If this was merely a preview of a possible NFC championship game, the real thing might be too much to handle.
Both teams had a lot to play for this week. The Saints, who have already sewn up their division, were playing for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Niners have yet to secure their division, but needed a win in New Orleans to keep pace with the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers are desperate to clinch their division and secure that bye.
The Niners fought hard against the Saints’ onslaught and emerged victorious. This win helps their cause tremendously because now the Seahawks can’t hurt them, regardless of whether Seattle wins or loses on Sunday night. If the Seahawks win, the 49ers have kept pace. If the Seahawks lose, the Niners will clinch a spot in the playoffs.
There’s no danger of the Saints missing the playoffs, but this loss moves them closer to a wild-card weekend appearance — much closer than they want to be. They’re now tied with the Green Bay Packers at 10-3, and whichever team has the worse record at the end of the season will have to play that extra game. The Saints have the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers left to play in the regular season, while the Packers have the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions remaining. The Packers have the slightly harder schedule, but the Saints have to be feeling the heat to clinch that bye.
More from Yahoo Sports: