With just 10 weeks to go until the New Orleans Saints first preseason game on August 13th against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, we’re counting down the top 10 greatest games in franchise history, with a new entry being revealed each week leading up to the kickoff of the 2023 season.
#10 - 1987 Week 9: New Orleans Saints - 26 @ San Francisco 49ers - 24
For the first 20 seasons, in the history of Saints football, they had never won more than eight games in a season. The 1987 Saints won nine straight games to finish the season on their way to the first winning record and first playoff berth in team history. The most notable win during this nine-game stretch was against the Joe Montana led 49ers at Candlestick Park. The Saints and 49ers were division rivals at the time, and up until this game the Saints had only beaten the best team of the 1980s three times in 14 tries during the decade. The 49ers of course had many future Hall of Famers like Montana and Jerry Rice, but the Saints now brought with them some Canton-bound players as well.
1987 marked the second season the famed Dome Patrol was together and led by future Hall of Famers Rickey Jackson and Sam Mills, but this year was clearly their breakout season. Jackson and Pat Swilling combined for 20 sacks in just 12 games due to the player strike while Mills made the first of 5 Pro Bowls in his career. The Saints arrived in San Francisco with a 5-3 record and coming off a close two-point loss in their first game back from the strike against these same 49ers which was then followed by blowout wins over the Falcons and Rams. Meanwhile the 49ers were 7-1 and had not lost since Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This game went back and forth for much of the first half with three Morten Anderson field goals giving the Saints a 9-7 lead after giving up one of Jerry Rice’s 22 touchdowns in his 12 game 1987 season (yes you read that right). Joe Montana did not start this game as he injured his hand in warmups, meaning the 49ers had to turn to their newly acquired backup QB Steve Young to start the first quarter.
The Saints opening drive of the first half resulted in a 43-yard touchdown to Saints receiver Mike Jones who broke a tackle from the cornerback on an out route and beat safety Ronnie Lott in a foot race to the end zone. The next two scores would be a 50-yard TD to Rice on a halfback option pass and a 61-yard blocked field goal returned for a touchdown by the Saints. Weren’t the 80’s fun?
The blocked field goal return gave the Saints a nine-point lead going into the fourth quarter. As expected, Joe Montana drove the 49ers deep into Saints territory on the first drive of the 4th quarter leading to a 35-yard field goal and would later lead a 63-yard drive capped off by a 29-yard touchdown pass on 4th and 7 to Ron Heller. The touchdown and extra point gave San Francisco their first lead of the game at 24-23 with 2:54 remaining in the game.
Aided by a 29-yard catch by Lonzell Hill and a 31-yard catch and run by Eric Martin on the first two plays of the ensuing Saints drive, quarterback Bobby Hebert drove the Saints in position for an eventual game winning 40-yard field goal by the Saints own future Hall of Famer Morten Anderson with 1:06 left in the game. The field goal brought redemption for Anderson who missed a 52-yard field goal which would have given the Saints a win against the 49ers in their first meeting of the year.
The 49ers would get into Saints territory on their next drive, but due to the fact that they had already burned two timeouts earlier in the half, they were unable to stop the clock much on their final drive which culminated in the Saints stopping Montana short on 3rd down which led to the clock running out.
The Saints win snapped the 49ers seven game winning streak and was the third of the Saints eventual nine game winning streak. The win was significant for the Saints as it showed for the first time in team history that they were ready to contend with the NFL’s elite. The 49ers were the best team in the NFL that year finishing with a 13-2 record and the #1 offense and defense in the league, while the Saints finished with the second-best record in the NFL at 12-3, the best by four games in team history at that point. The Saints trailed only the 49ers in scoring offense that year and trailed just the 49ers and Bears in scoring defense (by the way the Falcons were the worst team in the league at 3-12 this year). The Saints end of year stats were not aided by the strike either, as only three starters crossed the picket line.
The season ended in disappointment for both New Orleans and San Francisco, as they would both lose to the 8-7 Minnesota Vikings in the 1987 playoffs in one of the biggest underdog playoff runs in NFL history. The 49ers would go on to win the next two Super Bowls in 1988 and 1989 and the Saints would enter the most successful era in team history up to that point in the early 1990s.
This win earns its spot on the list because it was the marquee win of the first great season in team history and arguably the best team they ever had up until the Brees-Payton era. Seeing what the 49ers eventually became and what they were up until that point when compared to the Saints you would never think New Orleans would have a chance to win this game. This was really the first win that signaled the Saints had started to move past their losing ways of the past two decades and were finally ready to compete for the playoffs, so it’s a good fit to start off the list.
Watch the full game here:
26:10 - Jerry Rice 46-yard TD
42:23 - Rickey Jackson picks off Joe Montana
59:02 - Dave Waymer picks off Joe Montana
1:06:30 - Morten Anderson 51-yard FG gives Saints lead at halftime
1:24:42 - Mike Jones 43-yard TD
1:39:34 - Jerry Rice 50-yard TD on halfback pass
1:55:18 - Saints block FG and return for a TD
2:22:01 - Joe Montana go ahead TD pass on 4th down
2:25:06 - Saints game winning drive begins
2:30:00 - Morten Anderson go ahead field goal
2:36:34 - Saints stop Montana on 3rd down and time runs out
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