Hearst manhandles Saints' run defense

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- After the final whistle, Jeff Garcia handed
the game ball to Garrison Hearst, who tossed it into the stands.

The San Francisco 49ers' remarkable running back didn't need
another souvenir to remind him that his comeback had reached
another height.

Hearst rushed for 145 yards against one of the NFL's best run
defenses, and Garcia threw four touchdown passes as the San
Francisco 49ers beat the New Orleans Saints 28-27 Sunday for their
fifth victory in six games.

Garcia and his receivers provided the points, but Hearst was the
backbone of the 49ers' effort. He rolled up 119 yards rushing after
halftime, including two long runs in the final minutes as San
Francisco (6-2) ran out the clock for a gritty victory that snapped
a three-game losing streak against the Saints.

"I was motivated to get back out there at the end of the game,
(but) I'm always motivated," Hearst said. "We just wanted to get
the ball and control it. We practice that fourth-quarter offense a
lot. Our line got big and mashed people."

Hearst's steady, smart running gave the 49ers everything they
needed -- and everything the Saints lacked from Ricky Williams, who
fumbled and dropped a pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Hearst, who missed the previous two seasons after breaking his
leg in a playoff game in January 1999, had his best game since his
improbable return to the 49ers. He admits his joints creak a bit
more after two years away, but everything else is close to top

Should Saints fans be worried about missing the playoffs?
I don't think so. The Saints still have some winnable games in the division (Atlanta, Carolina). But they have to win their home games. Losing to the Jets last week at home was a major screw-up for New Orleans.

The Saints have to get tougher at home and not make mistakes, but take advantage of scoring opportunities (quarterback Aaron Brooks has had a tough time in the red zone this year). One upcoming home game that looms large: the Rams on Dec. 17. But from here on, they're all big games for the Saints.

ESPN.com's Vinny Cerrato was director of player personnel for the Redskins and 49ers.


"He's the man, and everybody knows he's back," 49ers guard Ray
Brown said. "He never gave up. For a guy who's been through it
like Garrison, this is a great thing."

Hearst made runs of 23 and 17 yards on the final drive that
forced New Orleans to call its final timeout, effectively ending
the game.

"He was so smart," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. "He ran
for big first downs, and he stayed inbounds. We were able to finish
the game with our offense on the field. We hadn't done that."

Garcia, who was 21-of-34 for 252 yards, hit Terrell Owens with
eight passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Garcia also found
Eric Johnson for the go-ahead TD with 11:06 left.

The 49ers punctuated their surprising season with their first
victory over a winning team while posting a key division win over
the Saints (4-4), whose maligned offense moved the ball
impressively but couldn't score when it mattered most.

"We couldn't take care of the ball, and we just have to clean
up a couple of things," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "The most
disappointing thing was that we couldn't get off the field on the
last drive. I thought the offense would have had at least one more

Joe Horn caught two TD passes from Aaron Brooks, and John Carney
kicked four field goals -- but as they have all season, penalties
and turnovers played a key role in the Saints' downfall.

Williams ran for 121 yards, but his fumble in the fourth quarter
set up San Francisco's last touchdown drive. A few minutes later,
two false-start penalties inside the 49ers' 20 pushed New Orleans
out of easy scoring range -- and Williams then dropped a pass in the
end zone.

"I'm supposed to be the guy that makes plays," Williams said.
"I had two chances to make them, and I didn't do it. ...
Obviously, much of the responsibility is on me."

Willie Jackson caught 11 passes for 167 yards for the Saints,
while Horn had six catches for 99 yards. Brooks, booed last week in
the Superdome, looked like the mobile, decisive quarterback who
gave the 49ers so much trouble last season. He was 22-of-37 for 347

The Saints went ahead 24-21 late in the third quarter on Horn's
6-yard TD catch to end an 89-yard drive.

But with 13:23 to play, Chike Okeafor stripped the ball from
Williams, giving San Francisco the ball at the Saints' 30. Garcia
then got the ball to Johnson, the precocious rookie tight end from
Yale, for a score that put San Francisco up 28-24.

New Orleans came back with another drive keyed on a 63-yard
reception by Jackson to the 8. But after two penalties pushed the
Saints back, Williams dropped a catchable pass in the end zone with
8 minutes left. New Orleans settled for a field goal.

Game notes
It was Hearst's first 100-yard rushing game since Dec. 20,
1998. ... In the second quarter, San Francisco rookie Kevan Barlow
caught a short pass and rumbled up the right sideline, breaking
five tackles before lunging over the goal line for a 61-yard score
that put San Francisco up 21-11. ... Saints OT Willie Roaf returned
after missing two games with a sprained knee. He played well, but
was beaten by 49ers rookie defensive end Andre Carter for a sack in
the second quarter.

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