With the Saints driving, down three, with just over three minutes left, Ahmad Brooks sacked Drew Brees and forced a fumble that was recovered by Patrick Willis. "It was almost like Christmas early," Willis said. Well, Christmas was canceled. Officials called Brooks for a personal foul, which swung the game. Brooks was, understandably, pissed.
"I didn’t hit him with my hand or my helmet,” Brooks said. “I basically bear-hugged him. That’s just how football is played. I think this shit is bullshit. Football, the way they call stuff these days, it’s watered down. It ain’t real no more."
Even after watching repeatedly in slow motion, the call isn't obvious one way or another. Brooks appears to hit Brees in, let's say, the collarbone. Is that the neck? Is it, as the rulebook states in 12.2.9(c), "the head or neck area?" Judgment call. The same rule also says "Referees will be particularly alert" to hits of this nature. In today's NFL, any hit on a quarterback isn't going to get the benefit of the doubt; Brooks is old enough to remember when that flag would never have been thrown.
Brees's reaction, with his neck stretching to cartoonish dimensions, was probably enough to draw the officials' attention and a flag.
The penalty didn't decide the game. The Saints still had to pick up the tying field goal, force the 49ers into a three-and-out, then drive 46 yards for a winning FG. But it's probably fair to assume that without this flag, New Orleans doesn't win in regulation.
Brooks wasn't done, accusing the officials of a little home cooking.
"It was at home," Brooks said. "It was Drew Brees. And maybe the officials were for the New Orleans Saints a little bit more than the 49ers. I think it's B.S., man."