SAN FRANCISCO—For nearly 59 minutes, coach Mike Singletary's bold proclamation that San Francisco would stop Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans Saints looked prophetic.
Then with one late drive worthy of the Super Bowl champions, Brees eked out another victory for the Saints.
Garrett Hartley's deflected 37-yard field goal fluttered over the cross bar after time expired to cap the winning drive that gave the Saints a 25-22 victory over the 49ers on Monday night.
"We won the game and that's all that counts," Brees said. "There were definitely things you wish you would have done a little bit differently but the fact of the matter is we found a way to win at the end."
The Saints (2-0) took advantage of four turnovers, an errant shotgun snap that gave them a safety and a kick that barely made it through the uprights to spoil the home opener for San Francisco (0-2).
In a testy television interview last week, Singletary bristled at a question about how the Niners would try to stop Brees.
"We will not try to stop Drew Brees," he told KPIX-TV. "We will stop Drew Brees. Next question."
The Niners held Brees and the Saints to 231 yards of offense until the final drive. The game appeared headed to overtime when Frank Gore scored on a 7-yard run with 1:19 remaining and Alex Smith completed a 2-point conversion to Vernon Davis that needed a replay review to count.
But there was enough time for Brees, who had the wind at his back. He completed two short passes to Pierre Thomas to move the ball into San Francisco territory and a 30-yarder to Marques Colston to get into field goal range.
"We've been here before," Brees said. "We knew exactly what we had to do, just find a way to win. We've shown that we can win in a lot of ways. To be battle tested like this, just in the first two weeks of the season, is going to serve us very well as we go forward.
After another short pass to Jeremy Shockey and a false start penalty, Hartley came on with 2 seconds left for his first game-winning attempt since winning the NFC championship with a 40-yarder in overtime against Minnesota in January.
That kick sailed easily through the uprights. This one had a much more treacherous route. Ray McDonald got a hand on the ball but it still managed to make it over the cross bar for the win.
"I got half the ball but I didn't get enough," McDonald said.
The kick was especially sweet for Hartley, who missed two kicks in the season-opening 14-9 win against Minnesota. He came in on his day off for extra work and it paid off with three fourth-quarter field goals.
"When I went out there to kick, coach (Sean) Payton came up to me and gave me a high-five and said 'Let's go home,'" Hartley said. "And here we are about to get on a plane."
The near blocked kick typified the night for the Niners. They turned the ball over three times inside the New Orleans 30 to thwart scoring chances and Phillip Adams fumbled a punt deep in San Francisco territory to set up a short field goal by Hartley that made it 22-14.
That proved to be too much to overcome for the Niners, who are winless after two games after entering the season with high hopes of making it to the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
"When we stop defeating ourselves, when we stop putting the ball on the ground and we stop doing things to hurt ourselves, we're going to be a good football team," Singletary said. "How good, that remains to be seen."
There were some positive signs for the Niners. Gore ran for 112 yards and scored two touchdowns and Smith put together one of the best drives of his career to tie the game.
He completed four of five passes on the drive for 51 yards and also scrambled twice for 24 yards. Then after Gore's run, Smith found Davis on the short pass that tied the game. The officials originally said Davis was stopped outside the end zone, but changed the call after replays determined Davis had possession in the end zone before Roman Harper drove him back.
Smith finished 23 for 32 for 275 yards with one touchdown and threw two interceptions. This came a week after he failed to lead the offense to a touchdown and the Niners struggled even to get plays off on time in a 31-6 loss at Seattle.
"In the end, it's a loss just like last week," Smith said. "Lose by one or lose by whatever—it doesn't matter. There are some things to take away from it, but still killing ourselves."