No two 4-4 teams could have been more different. The Saints at .500 were viewed as a team on the rise and poised for a run. The 49ers, with the same win percentage, were viewed as a lost football team struggling to keep their season going.
Which leads us to Sunday's 27-24 49ers victory over the Saints, though coach Sean Payton likely disagrees with me, what happened was simple.
The better team did not win. The more desperate team did.
The Saints WANTED that victory. The 49ers absolutely NEEDED it. Fear of failure is still the ultimate motivator in sports, and always will be.
The 49ers at 4-5 would have derailed their season. The Saints' 4-5 record still has them atop the NFC South, barely.
It was evident in their play. From the 49ers' laser-like focus to start the game, to their resilient finish where they somehow managed to withstand the severe momentum swings in a raucous environment that has sucked the life out of several 'elite' Super Bowl contenders before, it was clear the 49ers felt their season was on life support and weren't going to let it die on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome turf.
No play illustrated that more than the 4th-and-10, 51-yard connection from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree. Yes, it was a badly busted coverage which is completely inexcusable, but it also showed the fight that team had in them.
Most quarterbacks wouldn't have the guts, or talent, to even make that throw. It was as if he willed that completion to Crabtree.
When two teams are as equally matched as the Saints and 49ers were, they'll look for anything to gain an edge.
On Sunday, that edge was desperation. And the 49ers were that team.