NEW ORLEANS - Ahmad Brooks played wide receiver in high school. And he returned kicks in college. So when the 259-pound outside linebacker saw a Drew Brees pass sailing his way in the second quarter, his instincts took over. Brooks snatched the ball out of the air and then outraced the Saints, including Brees, for the end zone, one of two defensive scores on the afternoon for the 49ers defense.
The score tied the game at 14 heading into halftime, and it negated an interception two plays earlier by Colin Kaepernick, returning the momentum to the 49ers.
"It was like he was shot out of a cannon," Jim Harbaugh said afterward of Brooks' 50-yard score. Said Brooks: "I actually kind of felt kind of slow."
Brooks was part of the group that tormented Brees in the second half. Safety Donte Whitner also scored a touchdown after fellow safety Dashon Goldson upended receiver Marques Colton, who tipped the ball to Whitner.
Brooks was one of three 49ers, along with Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, who finished with 1 ½ sacks. Aldon Smith leads the league with 16 ½ sacks Brooks also had five
tackles, two quarterback hits and one tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
It was one of his best games as a 49er, and he did it in front of his mother, grandmother and a crowd of cousins, with whom Brooks would spend holidays and summers when he was a boy.
Brooks' father, former NFL defensive lineman Perry Brooks, passed away in 2010 and is buried an hour and a half away from New Orleans, Brooks said. "I've got a lot of memories here. This is my second home," he said, emotion showing on his face "It feels good to do it here. It feels great."
The 49ers fear that backup return man Kyle Williams tore ligaments in his knee and will be lost for the year, a league source said.
Williams, who suffered the injury at the end of the third quarter, had an increased role on returns Sunday because Ted Ginn was dealing with a wrist issue, Jim Harbaugh said.
It's not known whether Ginn's wrist was to blame for a second-quarter muff of a punt return in which Ginn appeared to start moving before he had secured the ball.
The Saints recovered at the San Francisco 10-yard line, and two plays later Drew Brees found Marques Colston in the back of the end zone to put New Orleans up 14-7. It was the first fumble the sure-handed Ginn has lost since joining the 49ers in 2010. The next time the Saints punted, Williams was back to return it.
The Saints did not punt after Williams left the game. If they had, defensive back Perrish Cox likely would have handled the return for the 49ers. Both Cox and second-round pick LaMichael James, who has been inactive every week of the season, can handle punts if there are injuries to those ahead of them on the depth chart.
Entering Sunday's game, Williams was fifth on the 49ers with 212 receiving yards. In addition to his backup role as punt and kick returner, he is the 49ers' emergency backup quarterback.
Brandon Jacobs was making incremental progress when it came to taking his first snap with the 49ers and finally did so with a one-yard run in the fourth quarter. The big running back was active Sunday for only the second time this season. He actually carried the ball for two yards in the third quarter. But the play was rubbed out by a holding penalty on backup offensive lineman Leonard Davis,
His one-yard run came on 2nd and 18. Jacobs could see more action next week.
The 49ers' top backup at running back, Kendall Hunter, left the game later in the quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. Hunter had to be helped to the sideline and was carted into the 49ers' locker room.
If Hunter can't play Sunday against the Rams, Jacobs could take his place. Or the position could be filled by James, who also has yet to play a snap this season.
Randy Moss was held without a catch for only the second time this season. But the veteran receiver made one of the defensive plays of the game. Early in the fourth quarter, the 49ers had driven the ball to the New Orleans 5-yard line and were attempting to pull ahead by two scores. Colin Kaepernick's pass to Moss in the corner of the end zone, however, was a poor one, and cornerback Malcom Jenkins appeared to have an easy, momentum swinging interception.
But Moss switched roles with Jenkins, playing defensive back and knocking the ball away. The Saints and the Superdome crowd roared for a penalty on Moss, but none was called. Two plays later, David Akers kicked a 27-yard field goal, the final score of the game.
Said Frank Gore of Moss' play: "It was either him or no one. He made sure it was no one."
Delanie Walker (hip) left the game in the second half and did not return. Right tackle Anthony Davis (finger) was examined by the team's medical staff at the end of the game.. Aldon Smith (shoulder) briefly left the game but returned.
-- Matt Barrows