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John DeShazier: How the Saints beat the San Francisco 49ers

Everything clicked for Saints offense

OFFENSE: What wasn't there to like on Sunday against the 49ers at Levi's Stadium? The Saints totaled 571 yards against San Francisco en route to scoring 41 points, and at times they made it look easy. Drew Breescompleted 28 of 39 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns, without an interception. Mark Ingramran 15 times for 158 yards and it included a 75-yard touchdown, the longest run of his Saints career, a week after he was benched for fumbling. Tim Hightoweradded 87 rushing yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, a week after he ran for 102 yards on 26 carries. Michael Thomasled a cadre of receivers with five catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns, including an acrobatic 32-yarder that will be among the catches on his highlight reel. The offensive line was at its finest – Brees only was sacked once and it paved the way for the highest rushing total (248 yards) for the Saints under Coach Sean Payton. Plus, the Saints converted 11 of 17 third-down attempts and had a whopping time-of-possession advantage of 38:23-21:07 while running 82 plays on offense. All in all, not a lot of nits to be picked from this performance, which arguably was the Saints' best this season.

DEFENSE: There were some numbers to not like, for sure. Namely, the Niners scored 20 first-half points; San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernickcompleted 24 of 39 passes for 398 yards and two long touchdowns, with an interception; and there were a couple of blown coverages that were unsightly, to be kind. But here's the good: The Saints nearly pitched a shutout in the second half, allowing just a field goal. And Craig Robertson'sfirst-half interception (which led to a touchdown) was one of four forced turnovers by the Saints, a total that included safety Kenny Vaccarocausing one fumble, and recovering another (linebacker Nate Stupar'scaused fumble near the goal line, and recovery, was a significant momentum swing). San Francisco was held to 2-for-9 on third-down conversions, and went 0-for-2 on fourth-down attempts. And the Saints were relatively clean defensively in terms of penalties; as a whole, the team only committed four, for 40 yards. So there were enough attractive numbers to cover the unattractive ones, as the Saints defense held a third consecutive opponent to 23 points or less on offense.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Not a banner day for the cover teams. San Francisco's JaCorey Shepherdreturned three kickoffs for a 34.7-yard average, and came close to popping a home run. And cornerback Brian Dixon, one of the Saints' veteran cover specialists, inexplicably drew a 15-yard penalty for tackling punt returner Jeremy Kerleyafter Kerley signaled for a fair catch. Couple that with Wil Lutz'smissed 55-yard field goal attempt (a long one, but makeable), and it was a day that will five special teams coordinator Greg McMahonmore teachable moments than he likely prefers. The bright spot was punter Thomas Morstead(four punts for a 52.5-yard average, two inside the 20). Morstead continues to have an outstanding season and though it already has been said here, it bears repeating: It's hard to imagine any punter in the league is having a better season.

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