SAN FRANCISCO — With running back Mark Ingram already on injured reserve, the Saints’ offense took a big hit on its first possession of Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game with the San Francisco 49ers.
Saints running back Pierre Thomas suffered a concussion when he caught a pass near the 49ers’ goal line and took a solid helmet-to-helmet hit from strong safety Donte Whitner.
Thomas, who fumbled the ball away for the first of the Saints’ five turnovers in their 36-32 loss, was helped up after a short time but was disoriented as he ran off the field to the sideline. After a brief examination by team doctors, his helmet was taken from him and he went to the locker room.
Thomas returned a little later and high-fived some of his teammates as if he were trying to inspire them before going back to the locker room for good.
His loss was a major one for the Saints because of his versatility as a runner and receiver out of the backfield — especially on screen passes.
“He’s going to be OK, that’s most important,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Pierre does a lot of things well for us and screens are a part of it.”
“It’s tough to lose a player like Pierre, especially on the first series,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “He’s a big part of what we do.”
TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT: With Thomas back in the locker room and done for the day, running backs Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory had to take more of the workload.
That affected the kicking game because Sproles returns punts and kickoffs as well as serving as a valuable weapon in the run and pass games.
As a result, the Saints put Courtney Roby deep for the first time this season after the 49ers’ first touchdown. On his second return, after the 49ers pushed the lead to 14-0 following a Brees’ interception, Roby dropped the ball, then kicked it before picking it up and fumbling again on a hit by Anthony Dixon.
The 49ers recovered and turned the miscue into a 25-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead with 14:12 to play in the second quarter.
STREAK ENDS: Going into the game, Brees had throw 215 consecutive passes without an interception. But that came to a halt after 11 passes on Saturday pushed the total to 226.
His 12th pass of the day late in the first quarter was intercepted by safety Dashon Goldson, who returned the pick 41 yards to the Saints’ 4 to set up the Niners’ second touchdown.
Brees also was intercepted in the second quarter by cornerback Tarell Brown, who made an acrobatic grab on a deep pass intended for Devery Henderson.
INACTIVES: The Saints inactives were wide receiver Lance Moore (hamstring), tight end John Gilmore (toe), cornerback Leigh Torrence, linebacker Nate Bussey, defensive end Turk McBride, tight end Tory Humphrey, and guard Eric Olsen.
INJURIES: Besides Thomas, the Saints reported no injuries although strong safety Roman Harper was shaken up when he collided with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis on Davis’ 14-yard game-winning touchdown catch with nine seconds left.
For the 49ers, center Jonathan Goodwin left the game in the second quarter with an injury to his left ankle, but returned later before halftime and played the entire second half.
BY THE NUMBERS: 35.7 — Conversion rate for the Saints on third-down opportunities (5 of 14) after they led the league at 56.7 percent during the regular season.
LAGNIAPPE: The Saints are now 5-3 under Payton in the postseason and are 6-8 all-time in the playoffs. … Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita visited with former teammate Steve Gleason, who’s battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, behind the Saints’ bench prior to the game. . … The win was the first in the postseason for the 49ers since they defeated the New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game after the 2002 season. The Niners are 27-18 all-time in the playoffs, including a 20-9 mark at home. … Huey Lewis & The News, a renowned Bay Area band from the 1980s and 90s, performed the national anthem.