New Orleans, La. – In the end, it was a game of numbers for the Saints.
Deuce, Tres, Quatro and Seis being the most important numbers of the day for the Black-and-Gold as they rolled to a 31-17 win over NFC foe San Francisco.
On an afternoon that marked the triumphant return to regular playing time for all-time Saints' leading rusher Deuce McAllister, it was the number 3 that played an equally pivotal number in keying the Saints' victory, as Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes. In all, the Saints' four touchdowns on the day, coupled with three takeaways by the Saints' defense and six sacks all added up as the Saints evened their record at 2-2 after the first month of play.
"I thought as a team we played inspired football and played hard," said Head Coach Sean Payton in his post-game press conference. "I though we rushed the passer very well today, and Drew played well. It was great to see Deuce get in there and be what we knew he could be."
The three touchdown passes by Brees, including two to WR Lance Moore and a 47-yarder to WR Robert Meachem, staked the Saints to 21-6 halftime lead over the visiting 49ers and the Saints protected their lead throughout the second half, largely behind the effort of McAllister, who finished the day with 20 carries for 73 yards and rushing touchdown.
"All of our receivers made some big plays today," said Payton. "Lance, Robert, Devery. It is what it is. When you aren't 100% guys have to battle through the injuries and we can't allow the injuries to be a factor or an excuse for us. I was happy with how our team battled through it after a week where a lot of guys didn't practice throughout the week. In fact, I don't think I can ever remember a week where there were so many guys that missed practice time because of injuries. But we can't allow those things to be a distraction to us."
San Francisco, which brought its high flying and high-scoring offense into the game on a two game winning streak, could only muster three field goals and a touchdown throughout the game. In the end, it was the Saints' defense that forced three turnovers (two interceptions and fumble) and sacked former Saints draft choice J.T. O'Sullivan six times and hit him countless other times, thus keeping the 49ers seemingly in tough down and distance situations all afternoon.
"This is a better 49ers team than we have seen the last two years," Payton said. "I know our team recognized that early in the week and we were very focused in getting ready for the game, in spite of the injuries we are battling through."
Moore's two touchdown passes from Brees had given the Saints a 14-3 lead over the 49ers, and represented the first multiple touchdown game of his Moore's career. "He was good and stepped up," said Payton of Moore. "He takes his role seriously and maybe it was an expanded role for him, but I don't think it was a situation that concerned him. He made plays."
Brees finished the game 23-of-35 for 363 yards for a passer rating of 116.7 and wasn't sacked at all, a testament to the Saints' rock solid offensive line, which opened holes for 104 yards on the ground and 467 yards of total offense.
Earlier in the second quarter and with the Saints trailing 3-0, Saints DE Will Smith tracked down a scrambling J.T. O'Sullivan and forced him to fumble the football, which was recovered by LB Jonathan Vilma at the SF 33. Five plays later, Brees hit Moore for a five-yard touchdown pass that gave the Saints a 7-3 lead over the visiting San Francisco 49ers.
"That turnover was a big play for us and it came at an important period in the game," Payton said. "We were sort of scuffling around a little bit offensively up to that point, but the good field position seemed to give us a spark and that lit a fire for the whole team."
San Francisco's lone scoring plays in the first half came on 47 and 49-yard field goals by Joe Nedney.
The Saints won the opening coin toss and elected to receive. Following a spinning 31-yard kickoff return by RB Pierre Thomas to the Saints' 33, the Saints picked up a first down on their second play from scrimmage on a 16-yard completion to Moore down the middle of the field after Brees rolled to his right. The Saints couldn't muster another first down, through and Steve Weatherford pinned the 49ers at their own 8 yard-line with a 40-yard punt.
The 49ers opened the scoring courtesy of a 47-yard field goal by veteran kicker Joe Nedney. The 49ers initial scoring drive covered 63 yards in 10 plays in 5:26. The 49ers picked up three first downs on the drive, with the longest play of the drive coming on a 23-yard completion from QB J.T. O'Sullivan to WR Isaac Bruce. New Orleans' Roman Harper very nearly thwarted the 49ers scoring drive with an interception near the goal-line, but he was unable to haul in O'Sullivan's offering, which led to Nedney's 47-yard field goal with just over seven minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The Saints' second offensive drive of the game was gaining momentum after seven plays and 29 yards. New Orleans had moved to the San Francisco 42 yard-line when QB Drew Brees tried to hook up with a crossing Lance Moore over the middle of the field, but LB Takeo Spikes stepped into the passing lane and made a leaping interception of the pass at the 49ers' 37.
The Saints' defense held the 49ers to a three-and-out, as DE Charles Grant stopped Gore for a short gain, then pressured O'Sullivan into throwing the ball away on second down. On third down O'Sullivan tried to connection on a quick slant route to Bruce, by Saints CB Mike McKenzie alertly jumped the play and knocked the ball away and forced the 49ers to punt.
The Saints once again tried their hand in putting together a sustained drive, but could only manage to drive to midfield on their third possession. The Saints had started at their own 17 and received their biggest play of the drive via a second down and nine 25-yard completion from Brees to WR David Patten. The Saints, though, couldn't advance the ball any further than the SF 46 and were forced to punt on the first play of the second quarter.
Steve Weatherford's punt was partially blocked and went for only 18 yards to the 49ers' 30. Frank Gore was stopped after a short run and then O'Sullivan connected with WR Arnaz Battle for a 12-yard gain. DT Sedrick Ellis recorded his first career sack when he stopped O'Sullivan for a five-yard loss. On the next play DE Will Smith hunted down a scrambling O'Sullivan and stripped him of the ball. LB Jonathan Vilma was able to corral the loose football at the 49ers' 33. After a short run by Reggie Bush and four-yard completion to TE Billy Miller, Brees floated a perfect pass out of the backfield to Deuce McAllister for a 10-yard gain and a first down at the SF 17. DE Ronald Fields then tackled Pierre Thomas by his facemask, which was a half-the-distance to the goal-line penalty (personal foul) and the Saints had the ball at the SF 9. TE Billy Miller was called for a false start, which cost the Saints five yards. Brees then hit Moore for eight yards and then came right back to the former Toledo Rocket for a five-yard touchdown, which following Martin Gramatica's extra point gave the Saints a 7-3 lead with 9:31 left in the second quarter.
The 49ers were then stymied into another three-and-out. After RB Frank Gore picked up gains of five yards and four yards, respectively, the Saints' defense stepped up on a third-and-one when O'Sullivan was rushed in his three step drop by pressure up the middle of the line by Ellis and Grant and his throw to Bruce was off-the-mark. Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee hit a towering 39-yard punt to the Saints' 35, that was fair caught by Reggie Bush.
Bush picked up nine yards on first down, but a second down holding call on Jammal Brown cost the Saints 10 yards. A second down pass was incomplete but Bush bailed out the Saints with a sneaky 10-yard gain on a draw play for the first down. The Saints lost five yards after a Brees pass to Bush lost five yards. Deuce McAllister then bowled over the right side of the line for 10 yards and the 49ers were docked five more yards for a rarely called defensive holding call and the Saints were on the move in SF territory. McAllister picked up six yards to the SF 39 and then on a second down and four and bulled his way for an additional six yards and a first down at the Saints' 33. San Francisco called a timeout with 3:45 left in the second quarter to regroup defensively. After McAllister was stopped at the line of scrimmage on first down, Brees caught the 49ers with a play-action pass that resulted in a 33-yard touchdown pass to WR Lance Moore. It marked the first two-touchdown game of Moore's career. The touchdown pass for Brees was his 61st as a Saints, moving him past Jim Everett and into fourth place on the Saints' all-time touchdown passing list.
SF started their drive at the Saints' 46-yard line late in the first half, but a corner blitz from CB Tracy Porter resulted in an eight-yard loss to the SF 46 with 2:50 left in the first half. O'Sullivan came right back though with a quick hitting 22-yard completion to Battle to the Saints' 32. SF G Tony Wragge was flagged for a 10-yard tripping penalty that cost SF 10 yards. The 49ers picked those yards right back up though via a 10-yard run by Gore to the Saints' 31 as the clock stopped for the two-minute warning.
On a second-and-nine, O'Sullivan tried to connect with Battle over the middle but tight coverage by Usama Young stifled the play. A third-down timing route pattern also was blown up by the Saints' coverage, and SF settled for a 49-yard field goal by Nedney that closed the Saints' lead to 14-6 with 1:44 remaining in the second quarter.
The Saints employed their two-minute offense, leading 14-6, with just over a 1:44 to go in the half. Only they didn't need the full amount of time to extend their lead, as the Saints marched 74 yards in four plays, ending with a 47-yard touchdown pass from Brees to a streaking Robert Meachem. After the extra point the Saints led 21-6 with: 52 left in the first half.
The Saints' defense then stopped the 49ers after the visitor's neared midfield and forced them to punt and the Saints ran out the clock to the first half with a 21-6 lead heading into the half.
The 49ers started the opening possession of the second half and set up shop at their own 32. Three consecutive carries by Frank Gore resulted in 16 yards for the 49ers, but it was Gore through the air on a third-and-five for a gain of 24 yards that hurt the Saints' defense the most. From the Saints' 28 the Saints forced an incompletion on first down on a mistimed timing play, but O'Sullivan hit Bruce on a slant for 12 yards on second down for the first down at the Saints' 16. Gore then tried the middle and managed a yard before being met by Vilma at the 15. Grant then shot into the backfield for his second sack of the day, this time for negative five yards, and the 49ers faced a third-and-14 from the Saints' 20. O'Sullivan tried to hook up with Battle in the corner of the end zone, but Usama Young had Battle blanketed and the pass fell incomplete. Nedney hit his third field goal of the game, a 38-yarder, that ended the 10 play, 48-yard drive in 4:42 and cut the Saints' lead to 21-9 with 10:18 left in the game.
The Saints began their first drive of the second half at their own 23 with 10:14 left in the third quarter. San Francisco's Mark Roman was flagged for an illegal contact penalty on first down that cost them five yards and Brees and Moore then hooked up for a 16-yard gain and a first down. The reception was Moore's seventh of the game and on the reception he eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time in his three-year career. Brees then hit Mark Campbell on an underneath route to midfield for a gain of six yards. The 49ers challenged the ruling on the field, believing Campbell didn't make the reception, but after a review the ruling on the field stood and the 49ers were docked their first timeout of the second half.
Brees then tried to hook up with a streaking Reggie Bush on second down but the pass sailed out of bounds. A third down pass from Brees intended for Miller was also incomplete and the Saints were forced to punt.
San Francisco started at their own 21 with 8:47 left in the third quarter. The Saints appeared to have the 49ers stopped after three downs, but a holding infraction on Roman Harper on third down gave the 49ers new life. Frank Gore then picked up eight yards and former Panther RB DeShaun Foster then picked up nine yards. Foster caught a short two yards pass on first down before Gore picked up six yards on an inside handoff to the Saints 43. On a third-and-two from the Saints' 43, O'Sullivan called a timeout after surveying the Saints' defensive alignment. The timeout marked the second of the half for the 'Niners, leaving them with only one timeout left as the game churned towards the fourth and final quarter. Gore took a handoff and fought through a tackle for a six-yard gain and the first down. O'Sullivan then hit TE Delanie Walker for a 21-yard gain to the Saints 15.
Bruce caught a five-yard gain before slipping at the 10 on first down.
S Kevin Kaesviharn recorded his first interception as a Saint and the first since the 2006 season when he intercepted O'Sullivan in the Saints' end zone. Interestingly, the end zone that Kaesviharn intercepted the ball in was the same end zone that he intercepted Drew Brees in as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006.
The Saints started at the own nine yard late in the third quarter following Kaesviharn's interception return. McAllister picked up a hard earned nine yards on a first down carry, then a five-yard carry on his next attempt. On a second-and-11 from the Saints' 22, McAllister took a hand off, worked towards the line of scrimmage and then coolly tossed the ball back to Brees, who fired deep down the Saints' sideline to Meachem, who made a sensational reception over two 49ers' defenders for a gain of 52-yards. Bush then took a handoff and was bounced with a hard hit on a tackle by Justin Smith. Bush took exception to something that occurred at the bottom of the pile, though no flags were thrown.
McAllister took a handoff and bulled his way for five yards to the SF 15 on a first down carry, then Bush picked up three yards to the 12. A third-and-two play action saw Brees pick up a blitz and fire a pass to rookie FB Olaniyi Sobomehin for 10 yards. It was the rookie from Portland State's first career reception after being called up from the practice squad on Saturday. McAlister then bulled a yard and a half and on a first-and-goal from the two and on second down, leapt over the left side of the line for his first touchdown of the season, which gave the Saints a 28-9 lead after Gramatica's extra point of the day The one-yard touchdown run by McAllister was his first touchdown in the regular season since the final game of the 2006 season (home against Carolina on 12/31/2006). McAllister's touchdown ended a 10 play, 91-yard drive that ate up 6:12 in time of possession.
49ers return man Allen Rossum bolted 55-yards on the ensuing kickoff to the Saints' 40. McKenzie was then flagged for a tripping infraction that gave SF the ball and a fresh set of downs at the NO 30. Ellis very nearly recorded his second sack of the day but O'Sullivan snuck out of his grasp but threw an incompletion. A false start penalty on a SF offensive lineman cost the 49ers five yards and a second down completion to Battle only picked up eight of the yards. On a third-and-seven from the 27, O'Sullivan was drilled by Grant as the ball left his hand and fell incomplete. SF did convert the fourth down on an 11-yard completion to Battle. But rookie CB Tracy Porter intercepted O'Sullivan in the end zone on a pass intended for Bruce and the rookie from Port Allen, La. returned the football 25 yards to the SF 20.
On a third-and-13 from the Saints' 17, Brees drilled a perfect sideline pass to Devery Henderson for 81 yards to the San Francisco 2. Henderson was flagged for a five yard delay of game penalty after tossing the ball into the air after he was tackled by a shoestring grab and the Saints were pushed back five yards. On third-and-goal Brees hit Miller for a six-yard gain.
On fourth-and-one, Brees faked a hand-off the McAllister and tossed a pass to Sobomehin in the flat but the rookie was drilled on a huge hit from S Michael Lewis and fumbled the ball as he neared the goal-line. The 49ers recovered the ball at the their own 4 with 6:26 left in the game and the Saints holding a 28-9 lead.
From their 4, O'Sullivan attempted a deep seam route to Battle that fell incomplete, but Harper was flagged for a 43-yard interference call. TE Vernon David then caught a 19-yard pass from O'Sullivan to the Saints' 41. CB Jason David defensed a pass intended for WR Bryant Johnson on first down and then Kendrick Clancy sacked O'Sullivan for a six yard loss (the Saints' sixth of the day). O'Sullivan then dialed up a 36-yard completion to Battle to the Saints' five with just under five minutes remaining in the game. On a second-and-goal, O'Sullivan hit Bruce after a prolonged scramble for a five-yard touchdown pass, the 49ers' first touchdown of the day.
Trailing 28-15, the 49ers went for the two-point conversion and got it on a shuffle pass from O'Sullivan to Gore that made the score 28-17 with 4:08 left in the contest.
San Francisco attempted an onside kick that was hauled in by Lance Moore but SF RB Michael Robinson delivered a late hit on Moore that resulted in a 15-yard penalty. McAllister, from the 49ers' 30, bulled forward for two yards on first down and then picked up six more on second down with no-nonsense straight ahead carries behind the Saints' offensive line. On a third-and-two, it was once again McAllister who carried the football, this time for a two-yard gain and a first down and the 49ers could only watch as the clock ticked down towards the two-minute warning as they had used all of their timeouts.
McAllister then picked up another deuce on the final play before the two-minute warning. McAllister kept hammering away, picking up five more yards on second down before being stopped for no gain on third down but as the clock ticked deep inside of one minute (:32) before the Saints called their final timeout with the ball at the SF 13.
Gramatica trotted on to try a 31-yard field goal and drilled the field goal, which gave the Saints a 31-17 lead with :27 left in the game.
Payton said after the game that he was very pleased with the energy and enthusiasm the crowd displayed throughout the game and credited them with helping the team throughout the game. ""They can make it tough with the noise they create for the other team," Payton said. 'I think you saw that today."
McAllister said after the game that he felt good and was ready to continue to continue to build off the performance. "I'm ready to play another quarter," he said.
Notes: RB Reggie Bush had 10 carries for 31 yards and added five receptions for 7 yards … Moore led all Saints receivers in receptions (7) and receiving yards (101) … WR Robert Meachem finished the day one yard shy of his first 100-yard receiving game (2-99) … TE Billy Miller had three receptions for 30 yards … on defense S Roman Harper and MLB Jonathan Vilma each had a team-high seven tackles … DE Charles Grant had six stops, two sacks, two tackles for losses and four QB hurries … rookie CB Tracy Porter had three tackles, one sack for -8 yards, a tackle for a loss, an interception, a pass defensed and a QB hurry … LB Scott Fujita returned to action after missing the last two games and had three tackles.
Injuries: Head Coach Sean Payton said that WR David Patten started early on and left with a groin injury and S Chris Reis tweaked his hamstring.