Saints revel in joy of winning tight games; 49ers going nowhere fast
Drew Brees' late heroics helped the Saints avoid OT and escape with a win
At just 0-2, the 49ers may already be at a crossroads with their season
San Francisco will never be far from contention in the mediocre NFC West
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Five things we learned while watching the Saints beat the 49ers in a real nail-biter on Monday Night Football, with New Orleans winning 25-22 on Garrett Hartley's wounded-duck field goal as time expired ...
1. It's not a good idea to guarantee that your defense will stop Drew Brees. Niners coach Mike Singletary, exasperated with an interview during his very exasperating week leading up to Monday night, proclaimed, "We will not try to stop Drew Brees. We will stop Drew Brees."
And for the most part, the 49ers defense did a good job of containing Brees and the high-octane Saints on Monday. But the 49ers defenders had to back up their coach's words when the Saints got the ball with 79 seconds left, two timeouts remaining and 70 yards to go to win the game. And they couldn't do it.
"We were very confident," said Saints safety Roman Harper. "We go against Drew every day in practice. We know how perfectly he can run that offense."
When the 49ers really had to stop Brees, he drove his team into field-goal range, handled the clock perfectly and allowed Hartley to kick the game-winner.
"We knew exactly what we had to do," Brees said. "We've shown that we can win a game."
2. The Saints offense is still a work in progress, but that might serve the defending champions well in the long run. For the second game in a row, the Saints won, but their offense sputtered at times and didn't look like the same club that rolled up on the opposition last season. After scoring 14 points in their home opener against the Vikings, the Saints managed just two touchdowns against the 49ers.
"We're disappointed in our inability to convert the turnovers into big points," Brees said. "If you get five turnovers you say, 'Hey this is a 40-point night.' ... We're disappointed if we don't score 30 points every game. It's obvious that we still have a long way to go."
The Saints were the beneficiaries of two 49ers fumbles, two interceptions and a safety. But six of their possessions ended with punts and three in field goals. Unlike against Minnesota, when Hartley missed two field goal attempts, the Saints were at least able to convert field goals on Monday -- even though the dome-team seemed quite preoccupied by the wind.
Brees completed 28 of 38 passes for 254 yards. In the long run, he believes the Saints will benefit from winning tight, low-scoring games.
"It's great to be battle-tested like this in the first two weeks," he said. "At the end of the season, the great teams are the ones that have gone through games like this and won them."
He then added: "I'm not overly concerned. We know we can get better, and we will get better. We work too hard and care too much."
3. The Saints' offensive flow won't get any easier without Reggie Bush. Bush's very bad year continued on Monday, when he was helped off the field in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be as serious injury. He was injured on a muffed punt -- after he fumbled the ball on the Saints' 19, he recovered it at the 22 and was subsequently buried by 49ers. He was carted to the locker room. Immediately after the game, there was no definitive word on the extent of the injury. Bush left the locker room on crutches.
"It was pretty windy, and at the last minute, the ball shifted just enough for me to drop it," Bush said. "Someone took my leg out. I don't know what happened."
It's one more blow to what is shaping up as a rough year for Bush. Monday was Bush's first game after announcing that he would give up the Heisman Trophy, in the wake of the NCAA sanctions against USC that involved alleged payment to Bush and his family.
He's still an electric performer. Against San Francisco, Bush returned three punts for 43 yards. He caught four passes for 30 yards and a touchdown and carried the ball five times.
"Other guys will have to step up and fill void," Brees said.
4. We're not sure what Singletary will do for his encore performance. Singletary seemingly used every tool in his motivational toolbox after his team's dismal opening day loss in Seattle. He thanked Pete Carroll for the butt-whipping, he called a Sunday night meeting after the team plane landed, he responded badly to a "dad-gum Yahoo" media report detailing his team's problems getting plays called, he grew agitated in his weekly television interview and then guaranteed his team would stop Brees. It was, frankly, exhausting to observe.
The 49ers proved something to themselves by competing with the defending Super Bowl champions: Maligned quarterback Alex Smith showed composure by driving down the field and tying the game in the final two minutes. The defense was solid. And the team kept its mistakes -- like delays of game and too many men on the field -- to a minimum.
But the reality is the 49ers are 0-2, with road games against Kansas City and Atlanta up next. "In the end, it's a loss, just like last week," Smith said.
So what's Singletary's mindset going forward?
"My mindset is when we stop defeating ourselves, when we stop putting the ball on the ground, we're going to be a good football team," he said. "How good, that remains to be seen."
The 49ers believe they'll win the NFC West this year. The problem is, they don't face another divisional opponent until Nov. 14 (St. Louis). Singletary may have to dig deep into his toolbox of tricks until then.
5. The 49ers hosted their last jersey-retiring ceremony for the foreseeable future, gathering a who's who of other teams' motivational speakers. The 49ers retired No. 80, an honor that's been coming for -- oh -- only two decades. Jerry Rice is the most recent member of the 49ers dynasty to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is likely the last of that era.
Rice took the field before the game in his yellow Hall of Fame jacket, acting as honorary team captain. At halftime, he was joined on stage by the luminaries of the glory years: Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Steve Young, Dwight Clark, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., George Seifert and many others.
There was a wealth of knowledge on that stage, one that other NFL teams seem eager to tap into. This season, Rice spoke to the Seattle Seahawks at Carroll's behest before Seattle's opener. And Lott has spoken to the Saints twice -- once before last January's NFC championship game and again on Sunday, during the Saints' walk-through at Candlestick Park.
Since all the former 49er greats live a few miles from the team facility, the team might want to avail themselves of this novel motivational speaker's program.