QB Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes, including three to WR Marques Colston, to stake the Saints to a 31-10 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Monster Park. The Saints’ defense did the rest, virtually shutting down the 49ers offense throughout the game.
Brees was sharp all afternoon, completing 31-of-39 passes for 336 yards and four touchdowns for a passer rating of 136.8, while Colston had a team-high eight receptions for 85 yards. WR David Patten had five receptions for a team-high 109 yards receiving and Reggie Bush picked up 113 yards of total offense (64 rushing and 49 receiving). The Saints’ defense harassed SF QB Alex Smith all afternoon, frustrating the former first overall pick in the draft to 190 yards passing on 43 attempts to 22 completions for a rating of 70.9. Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore was held in check all afternoon with 41 yards on 12 carries.
“I was really pleased with our effort and execution,” said Head Coach Sean Payton in his post-game press conference. “One of our goals after last week’s game was to continue to improve in all facets of our game and from what I saw today, we did that.”
The Saints out-gained the 49ers 438 yards to 260 yards and never trailed after taking an early 7-0 lead, en route to their third victory in a row.
San Francisco accepted the opening kickoff and began at their own 25 yard-line. The Saints’ defense didn’t allow a yard in three plays, assisted by a five-yard illegal procedure call on SF TE Vernon Davis.
The Saints started at their own 27-yard line and Brees rolled out to his right and fired a 43-yard completion to WR David Patten, who had gotten behind CB Nate Clements. RB Reggie Bush then picked up 11 yards on a hard inside run and then an additional two yards on a swing pass into the left flat. On a second down and eight, Brees and Colston connected on the opening score of the game on a perfectly executed post route after Brees looked off the safety.
“It’s good to open the game by stopping them and then going down the field and getting some big plays. It got is started,” said Payton.
The 49ers started their second drive of the game and crossed midfield but were stymied by a big play from the Saints’ defense. Back-up RB Maurice Hicks fought through the initial wave of Saints defenders before being met by a big hit from S Josh Bullocks, who stripped the ball fourth year running back. LB Scott Fujita snared the ball in midair and was ridden out of bounds by Davis at the Saints’ 40. The Saints picked up nine yards on the drive and elected to try to pin the Niners deep, which they did. Steve Weatherford hung a 45-yard punt high into the air that gently bounced and was downed by S Chris Reis at the SF 5 midway through the first quarter.
On San Francisco’s third offensive possession, the Saints surrendered a short completion from Alex Smith to Ashley Lelie before halting Frank Gore for no gain on second down. On third down, Roman Harper blew up a sideline route to WR Arnaz Battle with a big hit, forcing SF to punt.
Lance Moore split San Fran’s punt return unit for an 18-yard return and the Saints set up shop at the SF 43. On the first play from scrimmage, Brees watched as SF defenders peeled back and hit Bush for a 16-yard gain down the sideline. Bush then picked up four yards on a run off left guard to the SF 23. WR Devery Henderson then made a spectacular 15-yard catch at the SF 8, keeping his feet in bounds as he reached high for the pass. RB Aaron Stecker picked up three yards but the Saints were guilty of an illegal procedure call that pushed then back five yards. A third down pass from Brees to Bush didn’t find the end zone after SF defenders trapped Bush across the middle and Olindo Mare converted a 26-yard field goal, his first field goal attempt in three games. Mare’s field goal put the Saints ahead 10-0 with 3:25 left in the first quarter.
Former Saints return man Michael Lewis made his debut and had a 21-yard kickoff return before being hauled down by Kevin Kaesviharn on the Niners’ fourth offensive set of plays. The Niners recorded their longest play of the afternoon when Smith hit TE Vernon Davis for a 19-yard completion on a third down that took the ball out near midfield. The Saints plugged up two Gore runs and on a third-and-five, Smith’s offering missed the mark and the 49ers pinned the Saints at their own 4 after an Andy Lee 46 yard punt. The Saints out-gained SF 122 yards to 56 in the first quarter.
On their first possession of the second quarter, the Saints managed to pick up nine yards, but were forced to punt it away and Weatherford drilled a 43-yard punt that sailed out of bounds and wasn’t returned.
Brian Young sacked Smith on first down and stripped him of the ball and six yards but the Saints couldn’t pounce on the elusive pigskin and the 49ers couldn’t managed to pick up a first down and again punted the ball away to the Saints, and once again pinned them inside their own 10.
The Saints dusted off some of their old trickery and drove 91 yards in nine plays, capped off by a two-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Terrance Copper. On the drive, Brees connected with Marques Colston for 15 yards, then Bush picked up 20 yards on nifty run, converted a third-and-11 when Patten, who had slipped, rebounded and reeled in a 20-yard completion. But the biggest play actually wasn’t even a play at all, as Brees took a pitch from Bush and hoisted a deep pass to Marques Colston. Despite nearly catching the ball despite being interfered with by CB Shawntae Spencer, Colston drew the 36 yards penalty and two plays later Brees hit Terrance Copper for a two-yard touchdown that gave the Saints a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Saints’ defense again held the 49ers in check and harassed Smith and the Saints began a late second quarter offensive series. Immediately Brees and Patten connected for 16 yards, then Bush picked up three yards on the ground. Brees and TE Billy Miller then picked up five yards on a short completion. On a 3rd-and-2 Brees hit Henderson for an 8-yard gain to the SF 48 yard line and a first down just before the two minute warning. Brees and Colston continued their big first half with a 12-yard completion to the SF 36. The veteran QB then looked to his right before drilling a 20-yard completion to Patten, who had worked himself into an inside position in front of CB Walt Harris alongside the right hashmarks. The Saints used their first timeout after the completion and then lost a yard after Clements tackled Bush for a one-yard loss.
Patten went over the 100-yard mark for the second time as a Saint with a 10-yard gain on a second and 11 to the San Francisco seven, which brought up a third-and-one. Bush then darted for four yards up the middle with :54 remaining in the first half, as the Saints expended their last and final timeout. Brees then scrambled to his left in the face of a blitz and fired a 3-yard touchdown pass to Colston, who had turned around Harris.
“I thought that was a really big drive for us,” said Payton. “We kept the momentum going and took it into halftime with us.”
The Saints started the second half by taking the opening kickoff and Brees hit Moore for a 10-yard gain to the Saints’ 29. Bush picked up seven yards on a delayed handoff but the Saints couldn’t convert a third-and-three. San Francisco then had their best starting field position of the day, beginning a drive at their own 44 yard line. Jason David stopped Gore for no gain on a swing pass and then Hollis Thomas stopped for a one-yard loss, and the Saints’ coverage forced Smith to scramble for a five-yard gain before being forced out of bounds by an alert Harper.
New Orleans started their second drive of the second half at their own 17. Bush picked up one yard off the left side and then picked up 25 yards on a screen pass which took the ball to the Saints 43. A first down holding call pushed the Saints back 10 yards but Brees immediately picked the 10 yards up and a little more with a 12-yard completion to Miller. Colston then caught a sideline pass but was helped up by two defenders and they stripped the usually sure-handed receiver of the ball, which San Francisco’s Mark Roman recovered at the New Orleans 46 with 9:04 left in the third quarter. San Francisco drove the furthest inside Saints’ territory when they crossed the Saints’ 36 yard line. A 20-yard completion to RB Michael Robinson gave the 49ers a first down at the New Orleans 13 with 6:59 left in the third and the 49ers used their first timeout of the second half. A first down gaffe by Smith resulted in an incompletion and Will Smith pressured Alex Smith into a second down incompletion and the Niners could only muster two yards on third-and-ten, which brought on a Joe Nedney 29-yard field goal with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
After the 49ers kicked the ball out of bounds following their field goal, the Saints picked up a first down on third-and-one on a seven-yard run up the middle by Bush. Clements was then guilty of an illegal contact infraction which gave the Saints five yards at the SF 45. Mike Karney was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain before Stecker took a delayed handoff and picked up 6 yards on second down. San Francisco used their second timeout of the half with 3:03 remaining in the third quarter. A false start penalty set the Saints back five yards and brought up a third-and-nine which the Saints were unable to convert after Clements sniffed out a quick screen to Bush.
The 49ers converted a third down as Smith completed a pass to WR Bryan Gilmore before absorbing a big hit from Saints DT Antwan Lake. But the Saints stopped them three plays later on third down and forced Lee’s seventh punt of the day on the second to last play of the third quarter.
The Saints then set out to churn time off the clock in the fourth quarter and converted to a power running game and timely passing, including two third down pass completions from Brees to former 49er tight end Eric Johnson. Brees went over the 300 yard passing mark on a 22-yard completion in the fourth quarter on a strike to Johnson. It marked the Saints’ quarterback’s first 300-yard game of the 2007 season and his ninth as a member of the Saints.
Brees then found a one-on-one match-up as Colston out-leaped CB Shawntae Spencer in the corner of the end zone for his career-best third touchdown of the game with 8:47 left in the game. San Francisco Head Coach Mike Nolan challenged the ruling that Colston had possession of the ball before going out of bounds, but the ruling stood and the Saints led 31-3 following Mare’s extra point. The 11-play drive covered 77 yards in 6:16.
San Francisco mounted perhaps their most impressive drive of the game late in the fourth quarter and with the Saints leading 31-3. San Francisco utilized short passes against the Saints’ defense and marched 80 yards in 15 plays in 4:31, and scored their first touchdown of the game on a 7-yard touchdown completion from Smith to TE Vernon Davis with 4:16 left in the game.
San Francisco tried two unsuccessful on-sides kicks before the Saints took possession of the ball at the 49ers’ 35 with 4 minutes remaining in the game. The Saints pounded the ball on the ground and managed practically run the clock out before turning the ball over on downs with :11 remaining in the game at the SF 10.
Notes: For just the second time since Head Coach Sean Payton took over as the Saints head coach in 2006, the team had a different starting offensive line unit. Replacing Jeff Faine (pectoral injury) in the starting lineup was C Jonathan Goodwin. The only other time a starting lineup change has been in effect was in 2006 when Zach Strief stepped in at Tampa Bay to start for regular left tackle Jammal Brown … CB Jason David returned to the starting lineup after missing the past three games with a broken forearm ... TE Eric Johnson was one of the team captains, along with Will Smith, Scott Fujita, Aaron Stecker and Drew Brees ... Alfred Fincher opened the game with a big hit on return man Maurice Hicks at the SF 25 … on the opening play of the game SF suffered an injury when TE Delanie Walker was popped in the open field by CB Mike McKenzie … DE Charles Grant twisted an ankle in the first quarter and his return is questionable … LB Alfred Fincher suffered a concussion in the first quarter and is not expected to return to action today … DT Brian Young has a sack in three straight games, and his second quarter forced fumble was his first as a Saint … Will Smith ended the first half with a blind-side sack on Smith … Brees hit seven different receivers in the first half of play and nine different players on the afternoon … the last time the Saints scored 24 points in a half was at Pittsburgh on November 12, 2006 (Saints led 24-17 at halftime) … San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore twisted his ankle and his return is listed as questionable ... Saints LB Scott Shanle suffered a hamstring injury and is also listed as questionable … Brees’s four touchdown passes marked the most he has had in a game since 12/10/2006 at Dallas (five) … Jamie Martin took his first snaps at quarterback this season when he saw action in the fourth quarter and with the Saints leading 31-10 … Saints have now gone four games in a row without allowing a sack … LB Scott Fujita, who played his college football across the SF Bay at Cal, had a team-high 6 tackles. S Roman Harper also had 6 stops and a team-high two passes defensed.
Around the NFC South on Sunday: The Saints (3-4), by virtue of their three-game winning streak, crept closer to both Carolina (4-3) and Tampa Bay (4-4) in the standings. Carolina was defeated at home by the Colts, 31-7, and the Bucs fell at home to Jacksonville, 24-23. Atlanta (1-6) is idle this weekend.