The New Orleans Saints did more harm to themselves than the San Francisco 49ers did to them Sunday.
You've heard and read that before, and it's a pattern that the Saints unfortunately have followed for the majority of the season. In large part because of it, they now own a 4-8 record after a 13-0 loss to the 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
There were positives, but not enough to overcome several costly mistakes and a few officiating calls that didn't go their way. In the end, with an opportunity to carve into the lead in the NFC South, the Saints couldn't muster a victory on a day when Atlanta and Tampa Bay also lost and New Orleans ended a streak of 322 consecutive games in which it had scored.
OFFENSE: The fluidity never occurred because the Saints couldn't stay on the field in the first half, and because they committed two huge turnovers – both, lost fumbles by running back Alvin Kamara – that led to a 49ers field goal and almost assuredly prevented New Orleans from putting points on the board. The Saints finished with 260 yards of offense, and mustered 63 rushing yards on 22 carries against the league's top run defense. Still, though, victory was within grasp. Kamara's first lost fumble, recovered at the Saints' 43-yard line, occurred on the opening drive, and led to San Francisco's first field goal. His second lost fumble, recovered at the Niners' 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, erased a scoring chance for New Orleans as it feverishly worked to get on the board. The Saints' offense, when it has played clean, has been formidable at times. When it hasn't, this is the kind of result it has located.
DEFENSE: This was one of those days when the defense played well enough to win, but the scoreboard didn't reflect it. It held the Niners to a field goal after Kamara's first fumble gave San Francisco a short field, and forced one of the NFL's most versatile offenses to scrap and scrape for what it got. Yes, the defense was on the field for 20:11 of the 30-minute first half, in part because it couldn't get off the field on third down (the 49ers were 4 for 9 in the first half). But San Francisco was 1 for 4 on third down in the second half, and the Saints held up well against the run (29 carries for 96 yards). The Saints had two stops in three red-zone opportunities and on the lone touchdown drive surrendered they were their own worst enemy: Chris Harris was penalized for illegal contact on a third-down play where rookie Alontae Taylor intercepted a pass, and defensive tackle Malcolm Roach roughed the passer on first-and-20 erase the favorable conditions and give San Francisco an automatic first down. And on the touchdown pass, safety Tyrann Mathieu got a hand on it but was unable to intercept it or deflect it away. Still, for the most part, the defense was as stout as it has been this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Nothing especially significant happened. Wil Lutz missed a 48-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter that would have pulled the Saints to within 13-3 – the Saints would have gone for it on fourth-and-5, but right tackle Ryan Ramczyk was penalized for a false start – but the unit wasn't able to supply much help other than several nice punts from Blake Gillikin.