The matchup between the 49ers and Saints, the two NFC heavyweights, lived up to the hype as San Francisco emerged with a 48-46 road win that felt like it would come down to the final possession, and it did.
There was really no loser — except the Saints’ bid for home-field advantage and the stress level of each defensive coordinator — but there was one clear winner.
1. Who won the most in the 49ers’ victory over the Saints?
No question, it was San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He improved to 19-4 as a starter going back to his time with the Patriots, but the 28-year-old never really had a signature victory in his six-year career.
That changed Sunday when Garoppolo outdueled future Hall of Famer Drew Brees by completing 74.3 percent of his passes for 349 yard and four touchdowns.
Trailing by two points with 39 seconds left from his 33-yard line and facing fourth-and-2, Garoppolo calmly found tight end George Kittle for a 39-yard gain — plus a defensive face-mask penalty — to help set up Robbie Gould’s winning kick three plays later.
There were a lot of questions about whether Garoppolo was worth the record-breaking five-year, $137.5 million contract he signed with the 49ers after five games as a starter — the team could get out of the deal after this season — but after a slow start to this season following ACL surgery, Garoppolo has grown by the week.
“Jimmy’s a baller,” said 49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders. “They’re still looking to see what kind of player he is, but I’m telling you, he’s a baller. He works hard. When you’ve got somebody with the personality he has and the work he puts in, and in the clutch moments he’s not going to fold because he’s going to rely on the work he puts in. I feel like that’s what he’s been doing.”
Situations don’t come much tougher than needing a drive in the Superdome in the final minute. The crowd was so loud that 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said he took a timeout before the fourth-down play just so everyone could hear the play call. And then Garoppolo came through.
“He’s unbelievable, no matter what happens,” Shanahan said. “He’s had a lot of good games this year, he’s had some games where he’s made some mistakes. He’s the same guy every day. Just to be able to deal with that crowd noise, to deal with the adversity that came and went throughout the game, and to deal with me, he’s the same and he’s really fun to coach for that reason.”
2. Why was Bills quarterback Josh Allen still the main problem for the team in their loss to the Ravens?
The Bills’ fast and disciplined defense, as expected, did a terrific job corralling Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ offense. Jackson threw for only 145 yards, with 61 coming on his touchdown pass to tight end Hayden Hurst. The Ravens’ three wide receivers — Willie Snead, Hollywood Brown and Seth Roberts — combined for seven catches for 19 yards, and tight end Mark Andrews had one catch before leaving with a leg injury. The Ravens managed only 17 points through three quarters, but the Bills’ offense was pathetic with three field goals.
Most of the time, Allen was under constant pressure with six sacks for 41 yards and 12 quarterback hits. But that still left plenty of times on his 45 dropbacks in which he had time and Allen was his usual scattershot self. He overthrew three open receivers in the first half, and by the time Allen heated up late in the game, the Bills trailed 24-9.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t make enough plays,” said Allen. “We have to be better in that aspect.”
3. Why did the Texans make their victory over the Patriots completely meaningless?
They got demolished by the previous 4-8 Broncos and third-string rookie quarterback Drew Lock 38-24 at home in a game they trailed 38-3.
One week after Bill O’Brien had the biggest win of his coaching career, he had one of his worst.
The defense made Lock look like John Elway. In the first half, Lock completed 16 of 19 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns. His rating was 157.8.
“Bad day all around,” O’Brien said. “Like I always say, it starts with me. Just didn’t do a good enough job today.
“We’re not consistent. I feel like we have a ton of consistent people on the coaching staff and on the team, but we don’t play consistently. We have more wins than losses this year, but I think that’s a fair criticism of this team. That’s a reflection of the head coach. We’ve got to get the team to play more consistently.”
Not only are the Texans out of the race for a first-round bye, now they’re tied with the hard-charging Titans in the AFC South and will be in a wild-card battle in the final three games.
4. Why does Baker Mayfield still have no clue what it means to be a franchise quarterback?
Even on a day when the Browns won 27-19 over the Bengals, Mayfield still lost by the time he left the stadium because he threw the team’s medical staff under the bus for the way they’ve handled Odell Beckham Jr.’s injury.
“I’d say that it wasn’t handled right,” Mayfield said. “He’s not able to run as well as he should be able to, as well as he knows. And that’s frustrating for him. You can sense some of his frustration, where that comes from. It wasn’t handled the right way, in our training room. It is what it is. His not 100 percent is still good enough for us.”
The specific injury is not known, but Mayfield suggested a different approach to Beckham’s recovery would have helped the team.
“I think it could’ve been addressed earlier on,” Mayfield said. “Looking back on it, obviously, hindsight is 20/20, he probably would’ve missed the first two (games). One or two. Just based on the fact that it was during training camp. It is what it is. We’re here right now. It’s too late to do that. He’s fighting through pain; he’s playing through pain. That shows you the type of guy he is.”
Later, Mayfield posted tweets offering an apology for his comments and clarified that his intentions “were not to throw our medical staff under the bus.”
Too late. And too immature. Players should stay in their own lane.
5. Why is the end of the Doug Marrone era in Jacksonville coming sooner rather than later?
The Jaguars were noncompetitive in a 45-10 home loss to the fellow 4-8 Chargers.
Jacksonville was outgained 525 to 252 and had 10 penalties for 101 yards.
The Jaguars have lost five straight games by an average score of 35-11.
After previously allowing more than 215 yards rushing to the Texans, Colts and Titans, the Jaguars allowed 195 yards to the Chargers. Austin Ekeler had 213 total yards on 12 touches.
Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.