SAN FRANCISCO (AP)
In case any doubters remained, Garrison Hearst showed that he and the San
Francisco 49ers are back.
Hearst rushed for 145 yards against
one of the NFL's best run defenses, and Jeff Garcia threw four touchdown
passes as the 49ers beat the New Orleans Saints 28-27 Sunday for their
fifth victory in six games.
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 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.
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. His teammates crowded
around him in celebration after runs of 23 and 17 yards forced New Orleans
to call its final timeout, effectively ending the game.
The 49ers punctuated their surprising
season with their first victory over a winning team while also snapping
a three-game losing streak to the Saints (4-4), whose maligned offense
moved the ball impressively but couldn't score when it mattered most.
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.
Ricky 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.
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 yards.
San Francisco jumped to a healthy
early lead on a nice play by rookie Kevan Barlow, who caught a short pass
and rumbled up the right sideline late in the first half. He broke five
tackles before lunging over the goal line for a 61-yard score that put
San Francisco up 21-11.
The Saints surged back with 13 straight
points, going 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 false-start
penalties pushed the Saints back, Williams dropped a catchable pass in
the end zone with 8 minutes left, and New Orleans settled for a field goal.