NEW ORLEANS -- Where was a power outage when you needed one?
The 49ers returned Sunday to the scene of their Super Bowl disappointment nine months earlier and received just what they didn't need:
On an afternoon where the 49ers did many good things, a bad thing helped set up the Saints' winning score in a 23-20 New Orleans victory.
It happened after a field goal by New Orleans tied the score with 2:11 remaining and a 49er offensive drive stalled after the ensuing kickoff. This led to a punt. This led to punt coverage man Kassim Osgood failed to see Saints returner Darren Sproles signal for a fair catch.
That's when the 49ers needed a power outage, needed the lights to go out before what happened next: Osgood tackled Sproles after his catch and was assessed a 15-yard penalty that set up the Saints in good field position at their own 40-yard line. Saints quarterback Drew Brees then drove the team downfield for a winning 31-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley.
And thus ended one of the weirder games of the entire NFL season. The first half featured a series of instant replay reviews that required a physicist to explain. There were also a series of ugly injuries, including one wince-inducing leg-bender to Saints safety Jabari Greer. The artificial turf inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome may not have been the culprit. But it sure seemed to be reaching up and grabbing feet or knees.
At any rate, when the game reached the fourth quarter, the 49ers held a three-point lead that was largely the product of New Orleans turnovers on a muffed punt, interception and even a touchback fumble (don't ask).
And while quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49er offense played better than a week ago--and dropped one beautiful touchdown pass into the arms of tight end Vernon Davis--but on one critical drive, settled for a field goal in the red zone early in the final period. This gave the 49ers a 20-14 lead that New Orleans managed to close up with two field goals, setting the stage for the final moments.
More and more, it appears that the last three scheduled games at Candlestick Park will indeed be the last three games at Candlestick Park. It's hard to see how the 49ers will wind up playing host to any playoff action. The 49ers' loss Sunday was especially costly on a day when Chicago and Arizona won, giving them the same 6-4 record as the 49ers.
The season's last six weeks are going to be a grind. The 49ers need to win at least four or five in the grind. At least they know what the task is.