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John DeShazier: Linebacker Nate Stupar comes up with pivotal play in Saints win

Stupar forced a 49ers fumble at goal line

Whatever it took to woo Nate Stuparduring his visit to the New Orleans Saints in free agency – food, wine, salary, role definition – consider the price well worth it so far. Because for the second consecutive week, the linebacker perhaps made the pivotal play in a Saints victory, this time in a 41-23 win over San Francisco on Sunday at Levi's Stadium.

His second-quarter interception against Seattle on Oct. 30 kept the Seahawks from extending a 14-6 lead and put the Saints in position to score a touchdown to pull to within 14-13; New Orleans went on to win 25-20. And the play he made on Sunday was no less pivotal for the Saints, who now are 4-4 after winning for the fourth time in five games.

New Orleans led 31-20 after a high-scoring first half, but the advantage was anything but secure. The 49ers, led by touchdown passes from quarterback Colin Kaepernickcovering 47 and 65 yards, scored 17 second-quarter points and opened the third quarter with possession.

After a 35-yard kickoff return by JaCorey Shepherdto the Niners' 32-yard line, San Francisco drove to the Saints' 8 on six plays. On second-and-1 from there, running back Mike Davistook a handoff from Kaepernick and worked through the left side of the line for seven yards, to the 1.

But Stupar, while in the act of making a solo tackle, managed to poke loose the football from Davis along the way. And after prying it loose, Stupar then recovered it at the 1 to stop San Francisco's march and flip possession.

The Saints didn't move the ball much on offense on the next series; they went three-and-out, punted, and San Francisco again moved into field goal position and converted to pull to within 31-23. But Stupar's strip and recovery seemed to restore the confidence that appeared to be draining from the Saints defensively. It kept the Niners from scoring for a fourth consecutive possession, and gave the Saints a chance to regain their bearings.

After San Francisco's field goal on its next possession, the Saints pitched a shutout for the remainder of the second half and added two more fumble recoveries, by safeties Kenny Vaccaroand Vonn Bell. But Stupar's play curtailed the onslaught, and helped the Saints win on the road for the second time in their last three road games.

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