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Defense, special teams help tilt game in New Orleans Saints' favor against San Francisco

Defense intercepted two passes, special teams recovered two muffed punts in 27-13 victory

Game action photos from the New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers matchup in Week 10 of the 2020 NFL season.

The New Orleans Saints seem to have perfected the art of figuring out how to win a specific game on that specific day, obstacles notwithstanding. So it wasn't much of a shocker that the Saints (7-2) won their sixth straight game, 27-13 over San Francisco (4-6) on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, even after losing quarterback Drew Brees (ribs) at halftime, receiver Tre'Quan Smith (concussion) in the second quarter and cornerback Marshon Lattimore (oblique) in the second half.

New Orleans didn't generate much offensively, so it leaned heavily on the defense and special teams and both of those units covered for the offense, and then some.

OFFENSE: The Saints struggled offensively, and that's being generous. They totaled 237 yards, converted just twice in 12 third-down attempts and missed a healthy Brees in the passing game (123 net passing yards). Jameis Winston (6 for 10, 63 yards and sacked twice) led two scoring drives, but it's not easy to hop into the driver's seat while the car is already rolling. Two things the Saints did do well: They finished in the red zone (3 of 4), and they got the ball into Alvin Kamara's hands, who helped them finish in the red zone (eight carries for 15 yards and two touchdowns, and seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown). Depending Brees' status, Winston and/or Taysom Hill will have a gameplan a little more tailored to their talents if they're needed to start and finish against Atlanta.

DEFENSE: This unit is in a groove. After allowing a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession, the Saints held the 49ers to 206 more yards and kept them out of the end zone. New Orleans forced two turnovers (Malcolm Jenkins' interception prevented a scoring threat, after San Francisco had reached the Saints' 32-yard line in the third quarter, and Patrick Robinson's end zone interception prevented a touchdown) and sacked Nick Mullens twice. Add that to the totals from the previous game (three interceptions, three sacks against Tampa Bay in a 38-3 win) and it's impossible to deny that the defense appears to have learned some lessons from the early mistakes. San Francisco had 49 rushing yards on 25 carries, after Tampa Bay gained eight yards on five carries, and those numbers continue to show the Saints' domination in the run game defensively.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Fortunately, the big plays overrode some uneven play. The bad was returner Deonte Harris fumbling on a punt return in the third quarter, which was recovered by teammate J.T. Gray. The ugly was Harris muffing a punt in the first quarter that San Francisco recovered and converted into a field goal and 10-0 lead. But the good, was very good: Harris with a career-long 75-yard return on the kickoff after the aforementioned field goal, which led to a Saints field goal; two muffed punts recovered by rookie Marquez Callaway, which both led to touchdowns; and two Wil Lutz field goals. Even when the Saints' special teams units aren't spotless, they're still good enough to provide game-changing plays.


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