Once again, Ahmad Brooks sacked Drew Brees. Once again, Brooks went high, grabbing Brees around the shoulders. Once again, Brees fumbled. Once again, the Niners recovered, clinching the game.

And in that split-second, you had to wonder if once again, the refs would agree, as Brees whined last year: "That's got to be a flag."

But this time, they didn't.

And to Brees's credit, he didn't whine; the whining, instead, was Jimmy Graham's. After catching Brees's Hail Mary at the end of regulation, Graham insisted that he hadn't pushed Perrish Cox out of the way, apparently unaware that NFL games are videotaped. And despite the footage of Graham's two-handed shove, Cox had to defend himself against charges of flopping, as if any player would give up a play on the ball and instead depend on an NFL ref. Even the notion that he sold the call was a little ridiculous; if you're six-foot and 198, and you're shoved by a guy who's six-seven, 265—and if, at the time, you're running full-speed—you'll be too busy sailing to do much selling.

But now that we're done with this week's edition of Reffing Weekly—or is it Reffing Weakly?—let's get back to the game, the first of eight straight must-wins.

After the Rams debacle, Greg Roman became entrenched as Public Enemy #1. ("That's news to me," Roman said, proving that he doesn't spend enough time on this site.) And on Sunday, almost poetically, he had to face his demons immediately. Although Antoine Bethea picked off Brees's third pass at the Saints' 41, he returned it almost precisely to the 20. And so, Roman would start in the red zone, where his offense, inexplicably, ranked dead last.

And continuing this year's theme of repeating the past, I remember a team with the same problem. It had scored only 3 touchdowns in 19 red-zone trips. "Frankly I've never seen anything like it," an observer wrote. "This team, which once was imbued with unshakable confidence, now looks like it just knows it can't score. [And] with each failed trip, the pressure mounts, increasing the odds that the slump will continue."

That team was Roman's, from three years ago. And sure enough, the slump has continued.

But this time, for once, Roman didn't get cute. Frank Gore left tackle for five (and a facemask). Frank Gore left tackle for three. And Frank Gore left end for four and the score.

Then again, maybe Roman does read this site.

It's weird. On the one hand, you give credit to Roman for proving he can learn, eventually. On the other, when you think of the time he's wasted, the games he's lost, and yes, even the titles he's squandered, you just can't help but shake your head.

In any event, Roman kept going. After a run-run-pass-punt by the Saints—see, even Sean Payton can lose his mind—Roman engineered a 13-play drive that consumed 7 minutes and 79 yards. Gore again led the way to the 20, and then, once more: Gore, Gore again, and Carlos Hyde for the score.

As you might know, I'm generally a pass-first guy. But here in the red zone, I've been as exhausted as anyone by Roman's cuteness. By now it couldn't be any clearer. Here in the red zone—with Gore, Hyde, Kaepernick, and an offensive line that's built for the run—the Niners should never pass again. (Except, okay, for fades to Anquan Boldin.)

Of course, the Niners didn't score another touchdown, because only some of Roman's demons live in the red zone; the rest live in the second half. An 85-yard drop by Boldin was deadly, but there was more than that. Whether the issue is Roman, Kaepernick, or both, the quick-hitting, high-percentage pass is virtually absent from this offense. And as the Saints clamped down on Gore, the Niners countered with their usual mid-to-deep shots, with predictable results.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not pining for Alex Smith's ceaseless dinking, which would be stratospherically hypocritical. I'm pining, instead, for the WCO: dink, dink, dink, boom. But what we're getting is boom-or-bust, and until a minute and a half remained, all we got were predictable busts.

Until, that is, fourth-and-10.

You don't have to say you believed that anything magical would happen here. I didn't, certainly. This was going to be the end. And what a tragic end it would be. All that talent, done by week 10. A tragic end, to a tragic era.

But there's a reason why we watch, of course. Why we invest of our hearts and souls. Why, despite the pain of it all, we just can't summon the power to stop.

As these Niners always seem to say, This right here. This is why.

Or, as Kaepernick himself might say: Boom.

After the Hail Mary that wasn't, the fumble that was, and the weirdest game-winning field goal on record, we were left to sift through what it all means. On D, the return of Aldon Smith and the emergence of Chris Borland merely offset the dispiriting news about Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. (So much for health.) Nevertheless, that this is still the league's #2 unit is nothing short of miraculous; it should be good enough to win.

Which brings us back to the O, and Roman.

Every step up precedes one back. Early success gives way to late madness. Whether anything's sustainable here, I'm too exhausted even to guess.

But the Niners have lost the luxury of thinking ahead. One must-win down, seven to go. And that, in the end, is what it all means.

The Niners live. For one more week, the Niners live.