Chalk up another win for backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick—this time on the road against Drew Brees and the once-mighty Saints. Let's say "good job" to Kap right now because most of the praise for the rest of this article will go right to that dirty, dirty defense.
You can call me grumpy, but Alex Smith is still the better quarterback. While I wish I could rant and rave on that topic, I'm going to enjoy the win and refer you to this brilliant article on the "controversy" instead of shelling out a billion words of my own.
Now, back to business: Aside from Kaepernick's nearly Smith-esque performance, big props go out to the defense, especially, and the coaching staff for a hard-fought win in New Orleans.
Here are the grades for the big Week 12 win:
I will be nice to Kaepernick. I will be nice to Kaepernick. I will be nice to Kaepernick...and I really will because he played well. And I really DO like the guy, just not as much as my alpha-level man-crush on Alex Smith.
That being said, Kap had a very Smith-esque game. While you can't be too upset about a second-year QB in his second career start putting up a line of 16-of-25 for 231 yards, with a touchdown, one interception and a rushing touchdown, was it really that impressive?
Simply put, no it wasn't. His 64-percent completion percentage was good, not great. The 231 yards, one touchdown through the air and on the ground? Good, not great. The awfully bad, terrible, no good, Alex-Smith-via-2005 interception? Ugly.
Still, Kap played well overall. And most importantly, he got us the win. See? Told you I'd be nice to Kaepernick!
Frank Gore didn't have his usual day, and by that I mean, Gore didn't top 100 yards and score a touchdown. However, he did have a strong overall performance, averaging 4.4 yards per carry for 83 total.
It was nice to see Brandon Jacobs and Anthony Dixon get a carry apiece because both will be needed down the stretch with Kendall Hunter out for the remainder of the season (by the way, does this mean we finally get to see LaMichael James?).
The O-line did a good job, but overall, I expected a better cohesive performance against such a porous defense. Before Hunter left the game, he put up 28 yards on just four carries.
Another notch in the belt for the 49ers' vaunted defense, as the pass rush obliterated the Saints' offensive line (five sacks on Brees) and held the rushing attack to 59 total yards.
The big boys were at it again, as Aldon Smith, Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks each tallied a sack and a half, to go with Patrick Willis' half-sack. Brooks, of course, capped off this performance by taking back an awful pass 50 yards for a pick-six.
I don't know what kind of light switched on after the bye week, but this front seven has been even more dominant than usual. The Smiths are getting to the quarterback at a ferocious pace, giving Aldon a legitimate chance to break Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5 sacks (Smith has 16.5 with five games to play).
I don't care that Brees threw for three touchdowns. You realize that our secondary played an entire half of football (nearly 30 minutes of possession for the Saints) and only gave up 267 yards through the air to a Hall of Fame passing machine?
That's the kind of effort I like to see. Dashon Goldson laid a huge hit across the middle that allowed for a back-breaking (pun intended) interception return for a touchdown by Donte Whitner. And aside from a couple questionable plays by Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown early on, this unit was on fire.
It was nice to see the game plan work so perfectly on all facets for the defense—the unit will need to keep firing on all cylinders as the season progresses. There is still a meeting with Tom Brady in New England to look forward to, and then, a slew of Pro Bowl QBs in the playoffs.
Ugh. Let's play Good, Bad and Ugly with the disaster that was special teams against the Saints:
On the one punt that electric playmaker Darren Sproles was able to return, the 49ers' coverage team absolutely crushed him, only allowing a three-yard return. Andy Lee had an OK day but not as fantastic as we've become accustomed to.
On kickoff returns, the Saints averaged nearly 30 yards a try. With the 49ers defense, it's not so bad if teams begin drives at their own 35- or 40-yard line. But I have a bad feeling that one of these weeks, a good returner will find some holes and take a kick all the way back.
I wish I could tell you what is wrong with David Akers this year, but I just can't. It hurts me to even talk about it...drama aside, Akers shanked a field-goal try wide left before getting his final attempt of the night blocked. Luckily this week, it didn't matter, but the time will come when six points will be huge.
I couldn't help myself. What the heck, Ted Ginn Jr.? I'll give him a free pass this time because he has been so reliable on returns for us over the years, but that could have been a back-breaking fumble.
Aside from the decision to start Kaepernick (just kidding, I'll stop), the game plans worked to perfection against the Saints. There is nothing Jim Harbaugh and company could really do to prevent the fumble on the kick or the botched field goals.
But what they were in charge of was making sure Brees felt uncomfortable in his own pocket in his own stadium, and they largely succeeded. I'm sure they didn't plan for two balls to be intercepted, let alone returned to the house, but it was because of the coverage and blitzing schemes they enacted that the plays were even possible.
On offense, I actually was surprised and happy with the decision to let Kap throw 25 times. I'm sure the Saints game-planned for more of a mobile, dual-threat quarterback, and they got a guy who mostly stayed in the pocket, unless he had to evade pressure.
Any win is a big win, but that's two straight over the Saints—and this one on the road.
Overall, this was a nice, cozy win for the 49ers. It wasn't nearly as tight of a contest as I'd expected, but I also wasn't ready for the defense to go off as it did. Watching the defense on a weekly basis is becoming a pleasure all in itself.
Though I've made it very clear that I disagree with the starting quarterback swap, Kaepernick still played an admirable game. If he plays that well against most teams, the 49ers will win on the strength of the running game, coaching and defense.
Against a team like the Patriots, though, the 49ers might be in trouble. That being said, if the special teams unit is as lax as they were in New Orleans again, it might not matter who we play.
For now, we'll take the win and an 8-2-1 record. Heading into a rematch with the St. Louis Rams next week, the intensity needs to stay high—because god forbid we have another tie.
Who's got it better than us?