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49ers vs. Saints: Live Grades and Analysis for New Orleans

Can the Saints offense keep up their high-flying ways against an elite 49ers defense?
Can the Saints offense keep up their high-flying ways against an elite 49ers defense?Stacy Revere/Getty Images
James ErmilioCorrespondent IIIDecember 21, 2016

Garrett Hartley drills the game-winner as time expires! 

 

Final Score:

San Francisco 49ers - 20

New Orleans Saints - 23

 

Check back here for updated scores along with halftime and postgame grades and analysis!

New Orleans Saints Game Grades
Positional UnitHalftime GradesPostgame Grades
Pass OffenseB-B-
Run OffenseB+B
Pass DefenseA-A-
Run DefenseBB+
Special TeamsBA-
CoachingBA
Bleacher Report

Final Analysis for the New Orleans Saints

Pass Offense: This wasn't an amazing game by Brees' lofty standards—he finished with a single touchdown, threw an interception and had 7.1 yards per attempt, which is pedestrian by his standards. Still, he led a beautiful Saints march downfield in the fourth quarter to set up Garrett Hartley's game-winning field goal with time expiring. Marques Colston and Robert Meachem were the stars from a skill-position standpoint, with Meachem hauling in a 44-yarder and a 34-yarder.   

Run Offense: This was a strong rushing attack for the usually pass-happy Saints against a tough run defense. Pierre Thomas carried the load with 11 rushes for 49 yards as four different rushers combined for 91 rushing yards. They'll never be a ground-and-pound team, but an effective running game helped the Saints keep control of the tempo of this matchup.

Pass Defense: The Saints played great defense against the pass, yielding just 4.1 yards per attempt to Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. Anquan Boldin (six catches, 56 yards, one touchdown) won some matchups against Keenan Lewis, but no other 49er had more than Vernon Davis' 33 yards receiving. 

Run Defense: It's rare to see the Saints out-rush an opponent, but New Orleans' rush defense held the 49ers to just 81 yards on the ground at 3.7 yards per carry. Besides a 16-yard rush on 3rd-and-19, the typically dangerous Kaepernick totaled just nine yards on the ground.

Special Teams: Muffed punt be darned, the special teams unit had a strong game. Travaris Cadet had a huge 82-yard kickoff return to set up a Saints touchdown, and Garrett Hartley hit all three of his field-goal attempts including the game-winner. 

Coaching:  Sean Payton, who was seen hyping up the crowd around the two-minute warning in an attempt to disrupt the 49ers' offense, was as animated as ever. Though his usual big-play proclivities were relatively absent (just three pass plays over 20 yards), his team proved that they could win a tough, ground-heavy game by making plays when they needed to. This is the kind of game that cements the Saints as a playoff threat. 

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 3: Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints on the sideline in the 2nd half of the Jets 26-20 win over the New Orleans Saints at MetLife Stadium on November 3, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Ron Anton
Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

First-Half Analysis for the New Orleans Saints

Pass Offense: Drew Brees was efficient, if a bit more dink-and-dunk prone than we're used to seeing him. He had just two completions over 10 yards in the half, including a 44-yarder to Robert Meachem. Still, he completed 12 of his 17 attempts and found backup tight end Josh Hill (playing in place of the injured Ben Watson) for his lone touchdown of the half. Darren Sproles, Brees' safety net, missed much of the half with a knee injury, while Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham combined for just two catches and eight yards. 

Run Offense:  The Saints were successful in establishing the run in the first half, pounding the ball with Pierre Thomas and getting a nice run from Mark Ingram as well. They finished the half with 5.1 yards per carry as a team, and a one-yard touchdown from fullback Jed Collins. Let's see if they use their first-half success to set up play action going forward.

Pass Defense:  We've seen another strong performance from the Saints' pass defense today, especially considering Jabari Greer's early departure with a gruesome knee injury. They held Colin Kaepernick to just a 3.4 yards per attempt on 59 percent passing for the half, and they managed to sack the elusive quarterback twice. 

Run Defense: Teams that can pound the ball can sometimes have their way with the Saints defense, so this half of football was impressive by their standards. The 49ers racked up 56 yards in the half, but it took them 19 carries to do so. The linebacking corps is leading the way in containing the 49ers' run game, with 12 combined tackles from their top three backers. 

Special Teams:  It's tough to grade special teams, as there was plenty of good and bad. A muffed punt led to the 49ers' only touchdown, but Travaris Cadet set up the Saints' second touchdown with an electric 82-yard kick return. Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives, especially as Thomas Morstead continues his strong punting with a 51.3-yard average.  

Coaching:  Some mental mistakes, including a muffed punt and Corey White's inability to hold on to the ball on his interception (ultimately leading to a Niners touchback on a bizarre play) have cost the Saints. They've also strayed a bit from their big-play persona, though coach Sean Payton's decision to establish the run will benefit the Saints later. Overall, it was a solid first half against a tough team.

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