NEW ORLEANS -- Winning one of the greatest shootouts in 49ers history could pay crucial dividends in their upcoming playoff return.
Sunday's 48-46, instant-classic victory over the New Orleans Saints bolstered the 49ers' chances of securing the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed, so long as they win out their remaining three games.
Robbie Gould's 30-yard field goal as time expired provided the final points in an exhaustive display of big-time plays.
The 49ers (11-2) now return from their 10-day road trip to host the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons before a titanic, regular-season finale at the Seattle Seahawks.
Jimmy Garoppolo's precision passing (349 yards, four touchdowns) and Kyle Shanahan's astute play calling were the lead characters in the 49ers' greatness, and then came George Kittle rumbling down the left sideline to set up the 49ers' winning points. Kittle produced a 39-yard reception to the Saints 28-yard line, and while fighting off three Saints defenders, he drew a 15-yard facemask penalty on Marcus Williams.
Drew Brees' fifth touchdown pass culminated on a 76-yard drive to overtake the 49ers with 53 seconds remaining.
The Saints (10-3) scored touchdowns on their first four possessions Sunday, and the 49ers answered with dramatic, big plays. The 49ers kept scoring touchdowns. The Saints slowed down, at least until Brees' fourth touchdown pass pulled them within 2 points with 6 minutes to go.
The back-and-forth theatrics were reminiscent of the January 2012 playoff finish between the teams at Candlestick Park, where each scored two touchdowns and a field goal in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' 36-32 win.
Four touchdowns apiece by halftime had the 49ers barely ahead 28-27. The second half opened with points off turnovers – the Saints converting a Garoppolo interception into a field goal, and the 49ers turning DeForest Buckner's fumble recovery into a George Kittle touchdown.
Here is a closer look at the highs and lows of this epic game: