Ahmad Brooks burst into the backfield and leveled Drew Brees, forcing a lost fumble that he thought would seal a San Francisco victory.
Then he noticed the dreaded yellow flag landing near the spot of his big hit.
He knew the call was on him. Soon after, the defending NFC champion 49ers let a second straight game slip away.
The New Orleans Saints capitalized on Brooks’ penalty with a tying 42-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley, then won 23-20 on a 31-yard Hartley kick as time expired on Sunday.
Brooks was flagged for hitting Brees in the head and neck on a violent sack that left Brees with blood on his chin. There was 3:12 left and the 49ers led 20-17.
“I was like, ‘OK, here we go again,’ ” Brooks said of his animated reaction to the penalty. “It was very frustrating. The game could have gone a totally different direction that what it went. I was just mad because that was a big play in the game. We lost, and that’s probably the reason why.”
That wasn’t the only play the 49ers regretted after allowing to the Saints to kick field goals on their last three possessions. Following Hartley’s 21-yard field goal that cut New Orleans’ deficit to 20-17 with 7:50 left, wide-open San Francisco running back Frank Gore dropped a pass from Colin Kaepernick with a blocker in front of him and only one Saints defender on his side of the field.
Gore was thinking 79-yard touchdown. His miscue turned it into a third down, and the 49ers punted.
“I have to make that play,” Gore said. “I’m a better player than that. If I had made that play, we would have won the game.”