September 19, 1999

49ers 28, Saints 21

Grand Theft: Ball Game

The Saints suffered a questionably-officiated and hard-fought loss to the 49ers, the 28-21 final score NOT reflecting the flow of the game.

The Saints presented themselves a golden opportunity to go up 2-0 in the NFC West and send the 49ers down 0-2. But it would slip away.

Slow Beginnings

The Saints stopped the 49ers 3-and-out on the first drive, and a bad punt gave the Saints position at the 35 of the 49ers. But in a representative play of the game, Ricky Williams bobbled the first pitch on the first play of the game and the 49ers recovered. "The first play of the game was reverse, no question. It would have been a good play, but the pitch wasn't perfect, but Rick's (Williams) got to handle that ball."

At first there was some rusty play by Ricky Williams and BJ Hobert.

A Trick up their Sleeve

San Fransisco would go up 7-0 on a long drive and a pass to Terrell Owens, but the Saints responded with a 15-yard drive of their own, scoring on a diving 2-yard Eddie Kennison reception from Billy Joe Hobert. This drive featured two converted fourth downs, one of which was when the team suddenly broke field goal arrangement. Doug Brien lined up as a wide-out, Tommy Barnhardt went under center and handed the ball of to Lamar Smith who dove up the middle for 4 yards and a first down. "They don't know what to do. Their linebackers, (Winfred) Tubbs, (Ken) Norton, they bumped into each other. That's why it worked. They didn't know where to line up. It was a great call by Bobby, and it was a great play, and the other guy we changed was Lamar (Smith). I put him in. He went. I'll tell you what, I forgot what was going out to the wide receiver out there. That was (Center) Tom Ackerman. That must have scared the heck out of those guys. I don't know what I'd do if I was a defensive back, and I see Tom Ackerman coming on."

Poole of Radiance

The Saints would get the ball back and score, you guessed it, on a long bomb to big-play WR Keith Poole, would outran the 49er secondary 58 yards for the score.

Mike Ditka: "He just ran a curl route. The one, the slant he caught, he got hit pretty hard on, but the curl he just caught, and he's got more athletic ability than those guys, believe me, who were trying to tackle him."


As the Saints stopped the 49ers on a fourth-down play before the half ended, marking the first of many tough stands, the score would be 14-14. A huge surprise to Saints fans accustomed to a 49er-dominated game, Steve Young had already been pressured, sacked, and hit by the Saints in a game becoming increasingly physical. The Saints would finish the game sacking Young five times, and not allowing one sack on Hobert. A questionable offensive line would almost doom the 49ers.
Ricky Williams got started off slow at first, like he usually does, fumbling the first snap and getting hit for losses on his first few carries. But after a while Ricky got in a rhythm and looked very nice.

The Offense Clicks

The Saints' opening 2nd-half drive was an 11-play, 79-yard drive capped off by WR Lawrence Dawsey's first catch as a Saint, a beautifully thrown 12-yard over-the-shoulder flare catch for a touchdown, putting the Saints up 21-14. This drive also featured an impressive pass to Cameron Cleeland, returning from an Achilles' heel injury, where Cleeland rumbled down the field for 25 yards, and Ricky's longest scamper of the day for 15 yards. This would be the last time the Saint offense would mount a substantial drive.

The Officials Blunder

As several official calls would come in with questionable validity, the 49ers would fill the 4th quarter with stressful 4th-down try after another. Early in the fourth quarter the Saints held the 49ers on 4th and goal at the 2 yard line, beating back Tommy Vardell for a loss. But the Saints offense would go 3-and-out, testing the 49er secondary that played well despite being overmatched in height. Again the 49ers drove into Saint territory, and on 4th and 12 Young would throw to Jerry Rice who trapped the ball 14 yards downfield, and was ruled an incompletion. But the 49ers would whine and challenge the call, getting the ruling overturned. The 49ers would drive more, feeding off a faulty pass interference penalty on CB Tyronne Drakeford, and a roughing the passer penalty on Chris Hewitt, and would find Terrell Owens in the back corner of the end zone for a score, evening the game at 21-21.

Drakeford's pass interference call came when Steve Young lobbed a ball high and out of the end zone... and Drakeford was called on the 4-yard line for contact... 15 yards away.

Ashley Ambrose: "There is no way he could have made the catch. They got a lot of breaks, but you have to give them credit…they did find a way to score. I guess with all that happened to us today it was too much for us to overcome."

Mike Ditka: "There was no interference. I didn't think there was any interference in the call. They bumped together, and the ball was thrown out of bounds. I don't know what you call there, but you call what you see, I guess."

S Chris Hewitt's roughing call came when he slammed into Young as her was releasing the football.

"The ref should not have made that call," Hewitt said. "If they do not make the call, we win. I was there as soon as he released the ball. I guess it was helmet to helmet."

"Breaks go one way or another in a football game. Sometimes they go for you and sometimes they go against you," Ditka said. "You can't fret about it; you can't worry about it. It's part of the game."

"Yes, referees have to call what they see, and when you look at the game, the only thing that sometimes is bothersome is when they play the whole game, and don't have a holding call on offense. It's hard to believe that. I find that hard to believe when I see guys tackling (La'Roi) Glover, but the officials call what they see. I'm not blaming the officials. The officials do their job. Sometimes when you come out of a game like that, there's some close calls that go against you, you have a tendency to think that the game's mis-officiated, but it's not. It just happens in football. It happens in everything. Sometimes a guy calls a ball a strike, and a strike a ball."

The desperate, deflated Saints who had seen the officials take away their lead would have one last chance to win the game.

Troy Davis took the kickoff up to the 39 yard line with an impressive return, and Billy Joe Hobert, impressively consistent so far with only one interception that occurred on a hail mary at the end of the half, would lead the Saints one last time. But the drive would end with Hobert throwing deep over the middle into double coverage intended for Eddie Kennison. Lance Schulters picked off the pass and took it back 64 yards for the touchdown. The Saints would drive again, completing a few short passes. Ricky Williams would catch a pass and come up short of the first down on 4th and 15. On this play Ricky would stay on the grass writhing in pain. His injury is uncertain so far.

CB Ashely Ambrose: "The overruling on the Rice play and the roughing the passer — the Lord must have been watching over them today. We made a couple of mistakes today, but played well enough to win."

Game in Review

A disappointing but a not demoralizing loss. Billy Joe Hobert played tough behind a solid offensive line, finishing 20-for-37 for 223 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He played a virtually flawless game except for that one critical game-ending interception. Hobert was rarely rushed, and when he was, Hobert excelled in lobbing accurate sidearms.

Mike Ditka: "He played well, except for the one throw. The interception before the half mean's nothing. That had nothing to do anything. He threw a couple of balls that dropped on it. They went down at receivers' feet. He's got to get the ball in."

"I think our team believes in him, if you're asking me that. I don't know if he's marching around like General Patton, but I think they believe in him."

The team was penalized 8 time for 78 yards. Each penalty seemed to erase a good gain or first down or give new life to a stopped 49er drive.

Ricky Williams did not present a huge threat to the 49ers but is obviously a potentially feared running back. Fans got to see Ricky run right over safety Lance Schulters on one play down the sidelines. Ricky Williams would have several excellent runs in the fourth quarter, including 11-yard scampers around end and impressive 6-8 yard bulldozings up the middle. He would finish with 80 yards on 22 carries, with a bruising 56 yards alone in the 3rd quarter. With the offense running on full throttle we now have proof that the Saints can move the ball and win. Now Ricky's future is questionable with that painful elbow injury.

The Moral

Many people criticize the draft pick of Williams now, saying that "why didn't we take Edgerrin James??" Here's my answer: Ricky Williams is a considerably better runner than Edgerrin. Why is James doing so well? Put any running back next to the dangerous accuracy of Peyton Manning and he will look good. Ricky would be doing awesome in Indianapolis now barring injuries. Why not here? The passing game has no respect. Now Williams has sustained his third injury of the year, nothing more than tremendously bad luck. But, like in Texas, he hasn't missed a regular season game yet.

The victory for the 49ers cannot be resting easy in their minds. They has lots of trouble protecting their marquee player, Young, from the Saints rush. Granted that the line front defensive line is well above average, if he keeps taking the same brutal pounding, Young will not last the season.

One thing should be clear. The 49ers did not win by 'heroics.' The Saints lost because of critical penalties that gave the game to the 49ers in the last half of the final quarter. The Saints lost because their offense could not make critical first downs. When feeling down, dejected, and cheated, Hobert threw a critical interception that doomed the Saints. Had that one pass not been thrown? Had Chris Hewitt not knocked Young down with helmet-to-helmet combat? Had the officials not reversed their decision on Jerry Rice's 4th and 12 catch? The game would be the Saints', and they would be atop the NFC West, going 2-0 in two consecutive seasons for the first time ever. Finally the Saints would have avenged years of embarassment at the hands on Steve Young.

The 49ers and Saints play again on November 14, in week 10. Will Steve Young be concious by then? Will Ricky Williams be healthy? Just like this game, there's lots of question marks.

"This team's together already. This team is pretty much together if I ever thought I saw a group of guys. I don't know how much they hang out socially together, but they're together as a football team. They believe in each other."

"Although the scoreboard at the end of the game didn't show it, yesterday was a victory for us. That was the hardest game I have had to swallow since college. The ups and downs make me believe that no matter what we do this year, we will never give up during a game. The 49er's are definitely not the team of the past and neither are the SAINTS. " -Jared Tomich

Ricky Williams: "I caught the ball, and I knew we needed to get a first down because otherwise it was the last play of the game. I turned around and the defensive back was right there and he tackled me and I was going down and I put my arm down to break my fall. And I think what made it hurt worse was that I saw my elbow go the other way. I thought I broke my arm because I had never felt that much pain before in my life. I was just laying there, and no one really saw it, so I was just laying there and no one was even coming up to me. They finally came and they thought I separated my shoulder because I was grabbing my arm. They didn't understand what was going on."
"I thought he broke his arm, because of the way it was turned, but he didn't. I'm glad he didn't."

Mike Ditka has reported that Ricky William's injury is a hyperextended elbow: a sprained elbow. Evidentally Ricky is still feeling a lot of pain. The amount of time he will miss is unknown. Thanks to a bye week in week 3, Ricky's injury could be minimalized. Also, Ricky is reportedly 95% recovered from his ankle injuries.

"Time? I have no idea, can't even answer it, don't even know."

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