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NFL Preview - New Orleans (1-0) at San Francisco (0-1)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - After starting the league's campaign off with a 14-9 win over the Minnesota Vikings last Thursday, the New Orleans Saints will have been away from the game field for 10 full days when they kick off against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on Monday night.
The Saints are used to long victory celebrations. They are not far removed from the multiple-month celebration of the first Super Bowl title in team history, and to repeat that scenario, are in the midst of the longest gap between games a team can experience during the NFL regular season.
New Orleans fans are hoping that, since the Vikings win, the team has worked on an offense that, atypically, had trouble finishing off drives against Minnesota. The 14 points were the Saints' fewest in a game they were trying to win (they scored 10 in a meaningless Week 17 loss to Carolina last year) since Oct. 19, 2008 when they dropped a 30-7 decision to the Panthers.
They also hope kicker Garrett Hartley, who would seem to be on thin ice after missing a couple of field goals against the Vikings, can do in the swirling winds of Candlestick what he could not in the calm of the Superdome.
Apart from the win itself, the element of the Minnesota game that all Saints stakeholders would like to see maintained is the work of a defense that allowed just nine points and 12 first downs from an opponent boasting one of the most talented attacks in the league.
The 49ers did not have as happy a Week 1 result as did the Saints, as San Francisco came up small in the face of considerable preseason hype.
The Niners were something close to a consensus preseason favorite to win the NFC West, but waved goodbye to that status with a listless 31-6 loss at the Seattle Seahawks, as Alex Smith (26-of-45, 225 yards, 2 INT) played poorly and the Hawks' Matt Hasselbeck (18-of-23, 170 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) took advantage of the 49er defense to record win number one of the Pete Carroll era. Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant may have struck the biggest blow of the game just after halftime, when he extended a 14-6 lead to 21-6 with a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown off of Smith.
Reports of a post-game meeting held by San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary suggest a team rife with tension, as does a prickly mid-week television interview in which Singletary virtually guaranteed that the Niners would win saying, "We will stop Drew Brees," and "We will not try to move the ball against the New Orleans defense. We will move the ball and we will score."
With a loss, San Francisco would be 0-2 for the first time since 2004, when it dropped its first four en route to a 2-14 finish.
The Saints are 12-16 all-time on Monday night, including 6-1 since Payton took the helm in 2006. New Orleans beat the Falcons (35-27) and Patriots (38-17) on Monday night last season.
The 49ers are 39-24 on Mondays, with the Cowboys (42-29 record) and Dolphins (40-35) ranking as the only teams with more victories on the NFL's weekday institution.
The 49ers hold a 45-23-2 record in the all-time series, but New Orleans has wins in each of the last five meetings and eight of the past 10. The Saints claimed a 31-17 home victory when the teams met, during the 2008 season, and were 31-10 winners when the last visited San Francisco in 2007. The 49ers last defeated New Orleans in 2001, when they swept a home-and-home against the Saints, then a division rival. The 49ers and Saints met twice a year as members of the NFC West from 1970 through 2001.
The Saints' Sean Payton is 3-0 against the 49ers, while the Niners' Singletary will be meeting both Payton and New Orleans for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
Though the Saints scored only 14 points in Week 1, Brees was his typically efficient self statistically against the Vikings. The reigning Super Bowl MVP was 27-of-36 passing for 237 yards, a touchdown, and just one sack absorbed while distributing the ball to nine different targets in the win. Wideout Devery Henderson (2 receptions, 38 yards) caught Brees' first TD pass of the year, and fellow WRs Marques Colston (5 receptions, 62 yards), Robert Meachem (3 receptions, 33 yards) and Lance Moore (3 receptions, 23 yards) all contributed as well. Tight end Jeremy Shockey (3 receptions, 23 yards) was another semi-frequent target for Brees. In the running game, Pierre Thomas (19 carries, 71 yards, 1 TD) had a decent night against one of the NFL's top run defenses, though Reggie Bush (14 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 33 yards) did most of his damage as a wide receiver. Bush will be appearing in his first game since forfeiting his 2005 Heisman Trophy earlier in the week due to transgressions during his collegiate career at USC.
After allowing Hasselbeck to complete more than 75 percent of his passes in Week 1, the 49ers will have to be much sharper against a group of Saints targets that ranks among the best in the league. Cornerbacks Nate Clements (3 tackles, 1 INT), Shawntae Spencer (1 tackle), Tarell Brown and Will James figure to be on the field a lot Monday night, with safeties Michael Lewis (2 tackles) and Dashon Goldson (6 tackles) needing to be on their respective games as well. Pass rushers Manny Lawson (3 tackles) and Travis LaBoy (5 tackles, 1 sack) will be fighting an uphill battle to try to get to Brees. The Niners were solid against the run last week, allowing just 77 yards on 23 carries (3.3 yards per rush), 32 of that coming on one run for Justin Forsett. Inside linebacker Patrick Willis (10 tackles) continues to lead the run-stopping forces, with nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (3 tackles) and end Justin Smith (4 tackles) making their presence felt in the trenches.
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
All eyes in San Francisco will be on the work of a 49er offense that appears disjointed as Week 2 begins. After failing to lead the attack to a touchdown in Week 1, Smith openly criticized the coaching staff in postgame comments. Later in the week, reports surfaced suggesting that coordinator Jimmy Raye was viewed within the locker room as being less than adept as a play-caller. Against that backdrop, Smith will be seeking to get wide receivers Michael Crabtree (2 receptions, 12 yards) and Josh Morgan (3 receptions, 32 yards) more involved than they were a week ago. Tight end Vernon Davis (8 receptions, 73 yards) was Smith's top target, while running back Frank Gore did more damage through the air (6 receptions, 45 yards) than in the run game (17 rushes, 38 yards). The Niners are also going to need a stronger effort from a young o-line, which includes two players who will make their formal San Francisco debuts on Monday night - guard Mike Iupati (Idaho) and tackle Anthony Davis (Rutgers). The group allowed two sacks of Smith a week ago.
A Saints defense becoming somewhat legendary for its ability to cause turnovers will try to goad Smith into another miscue-laden performance this week. New Orleans had just one turnover in Week 1 against Minnesota, that a somewhat controversial interception by linebacker Jonathan Vilma, but surprised the Vikings with an atypically conservative style that yielded a mere 12 first- downs to Brett Favre and company. Vilma (4 tackles) is a question mark for Monday due to a groin problem, and fellow LBs Scott Shanle (7 tackles) and Jo- Lonn Dunbar (7 tackles) would have to pick up the slack in his absence. Looking to pressure Smith will be ends Will Smith (2 tackles) and Alex Brown (1 tackle), both of whom were relatively quiet against the Vikings. Tackle Sedrick Ellis (5 tackles) had the team's only sack on the night. On the back end, a secondary led by safeties Malcolm Jenkins (2 tackles) and Roman Harper (7 tackles) will try to guard against the big play and support cornerbacks Jabari Greer (5 tackles) and Tracy Porter (4 tackles).
The dilemma of the Saints and fantasy was on display in the opener, as Brees was typically solid but distributed the ball around to too many players for owners to rely on any of the team's targets. Colston probably remains the best WR option on the team, and is worth playing, as are Bush and Thomas. Payton is sticking with Hartley at kicker, and he'll be trying to reward the patience of both his real-life head coach and fantasy owners. The Saints defense is also a worthwhile play against a scuffling 49ers offense.
On the San Francisco side, Gore and Davis remain automatic options, and you have to figure Crabtree is going to be more of a difference-maker in Week 2 than he was against the Seahawks. Other than that, it's hands-off the Niners.
The 49ers looked terrible in Week 1, particularly on offense. The Saints picked up a very impressive victory, built primarily on the back of a strong defensive effort. Going into their Monday matchup, the teams look to be on complete opposite poles of the football universe. So, bizarro NFL logic suggests that the 49ers will win this game. San Francisco may have its problems, but this is a team that was picked to win the NFC West for a reason. The talent is there, and you can bet the intense Singletary will have this group ready to play after last week's debacle. The Saints are the Saints, and are always a tough out, but history suggests that the old "Super Bowl hangover" is bound to rear its ugly head at some point. The tea leaves say it will happen here.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 27, Saints 26
09/17 14:22:32 ET
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