How bad are the San Francisco 49ers?
So bad that the Saints, a team that had not won since the season opener, beat them 24-6 Sunday, the biggest margin of victory for New Orleans in the series.
"We're searching for answers and I'm beating myself up trying to find a way to get more out of our players on both sides of the ball," San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci said. "You've got a frustrated team right now."
"It's not going to make our season," said Saints cornerback Ashley Ambrose. "But for a little while it feels great to get some of that monkey off our back."
The 49ers (3-6) have lost five straight. The last time that happened was in 1980, when they lost eight straight.
"Before, we were so successful that now that we aren't people are taking advantage of it and taking their frustrations out on us and pushing us around after every play," said 49ers linebacker Ken Norton Jr.
Billy Joe Tolliver, the goat so often during the Saints' seven-game losing streak, turned hero. The second-string quarterback rushed for two touchdowns and passed for a third.
"Well, I think that it was one we had to have, and they were sitting there at 3-5," Tolliver said. "They had to have it as well. It was a big win for us. We went out there and executed, so drink up boys and let's get ready for Jacksonville."
Many of the disillusioned 49ers did not stick around to talk about the latest loss. By the time the locker room was opened to reporters, more than half the team was gone.
Tolliver, who had thrown four touchdown passes and 10 interceptions going into the game, did not urn the ball over against the 49ers, electing to scramble rather than force passes. He completed 12-of-15 for 242 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 36 yards.
"The fans were booing Billy Joe during the warmup" Saints center Jerry Fontenot said. "There's a lot to be said for his courage after all that's happened. It would have been easy for him to go in the tank."
Saints rookie Ricky Williams was one yard shy of his third 100-yard game, carrying 30 times for 99 yards.
The Saints (2-7) had 365 yards in total offense, including 143 rushing. San Francisco's once-feared offense was held to just 234 yards. The 49ers have not scored an offensive touchdown in 12 quarters and have not scored a touchdown at all in the last two games.
The collision of two teams in the midst of dismal seasons produced a lackluster game before another minuscule crowd. The Saints announced 52,198 tickets distributed, but attendance was far less. Unlike the crowds at other home games this season, Sunday's fans stayed to the end to cheer the rare victory over San Francisco.
The Saints scored their most points this season. They went ahead 14-3 in the second quarter as Tolliver rushed for his second touchdown. His 2-yard scramble capped an 89-yard drive.
Tolliver's first-quarter score, another 2-yard run, put the Saints up 7-0. All three TDs rushing this season for New Orleans have been by quarterbacks.
"He's a guy you really don't factor in as part of the run game," Norton said of Tolliver.
"It's just sheer speed," Tolliver quipped. "I've played against them a lot of times, they know that I'm not a real fast guy, and they probably didn't worry about me on the run."
San Francisco was held to 112 yards in the first half, and two 15-play drives resulted in only 52-yard and 22-yard field goals by Wade Richey to make it 14-6 at halftime.
Steve Stenstrom, making his first start for the 49ers and his eighth overall in five seasons, was 18-of-32 for 157 yards. He was intercepted by Willie Clay with 2:39 left to end San Francisco's last threat.
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