One year it's the offense; another year the defense.
Whatever the year, the San Francisco 49ers have a way of pulling out games in the final minutes against the New Orleans Saints.It was the defense Sunday night as the 49ers beat the Saints 16-10 to run their record to 3-1 and gain their fifth win in their last six games here against the Saints. Even after Steve Young and Mike Cofer had given the Niners the lead, the game wasn't clinched until Eric Davis picked off Bobby Hebert's potential game-winning pass from 12 yards away with 10 seconds left.
"We had taken a lot of heat, and deservedly so," cornerback Merton Hanks said of the San Francisco defense, which ranked next-to-last in the NFL entering the game. "We just wanted to play 49ers' defense."
It was a strange game in a lot of ways as San Francisco, which had scored 31 points in each of its first three games, got just over half that.
Cofer, in a two-year slump and just 3 for 7 this season, hit three field goals, including 26- and 42-yarders in the fourth quarter that broke a 10-10 tie. He outkicked Morten Andersen, the NFL's second leading all-time kicker, who missed a 37-yarder in the third quarter that would have allowed the Saints to play for a field goal on the final drive.
Young, who entered as the NFL's second-leading passer, used his legs in this one, carrying eight times for 65 yards, including a 26-yard scramble to the 1-yard line that set up San Francisco's only TD - a dive by Tom Rathman in the first quarter.
The officiating was bizarre - perhaps the first game in four weeks of the season where the lack of replay for the first time in six years may have been a factor.
San Francisco's Jerry Rice lost a touchdown in the first quarter when head linesman Aaron Pointer ruled that he had fumbled before scoring, a decision seemingly contradicted by replay. The Saints also lost two fumbles on plays where the fumbler appeared down by contact.
"We got one that probably would have been reversed with Jerry Rice on the goal line," New Orleans linebacker Sam Mills said. "We got some, and they got some. It all evens out."
The Rice play came on San Francisco's first possession and the ball was recovered in the end zone by Vaughn Johnson. From there the Saints drove 80 yards to take a 7-0 lead with Hebert, who was 25 of 40 for 267 yards, hitting Eric Martin from 11 yards out for the score.
The Niners came right back with an 80-yard drive of their own, highlighted by the 26-yard run by Young, who passed for 187 yards on 17 completions in 26 attempts.