Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints offense enjoyed their first visit to Levi’s Stadium on Sunday afternoon, beating the San Francisco 49ers, 41-23. The Saints scored 31 points in the first half and cruised through the second half on the way to thier fourth victory of the year. Meanwhile, the 49ers struggled defensively, although the offense did show signs of life. Nonetheless, San Francisco lost for the seventh straight time in the 2016 regular season, and with eight games left on the schedule, it’s tough to imagine the 49ers winning any of them.

On the positive side, it looks as though the bye week did S.F. quarterback Colin Kaepernick a lot of good, as the much-maligned 49ers QB played one of his best games in the last few years. Kaepernick threw for 398 yards and two touchdowns as the San Francisco offense scored over 20 points for just the fourth time this season. Despite playing without starting running back Carlos Hyde, the 49ers were able to move the ball for a season-high 486 yards against the beleaguered New Orleans defense.

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Offense: B-

It’s hard to critique the offense when it gains more yards than it has since Week 1 of the 2013 season when the 49ers put up 494 yards against the Green Bay Packers. But the four turnovers were just crushing, as was the 2-for-11 effort combined on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts. Kaep threw the ball well enough, despite the one interception, and running back DuJuan Harris had a fantastic game. He ran for 59 yards on just 10 carries, while catching five passes for 83 yards and a TD.

Wide receiver Quinton Patton and tight end Vance McDonald both caught long TD passes, but fumbles by Kaepernick, Harris and RB Mike Davis hurt the team considerably. It’s hard to win any game when you turn the ball over four times. Toss in those struggles in keeping drives going on third down, and the high yardage total becomes a little less impressive, even with 23 points on the scoreboard. The 49ers could have done a lot more if they could have held on to the ball and simply made an extra first down here or there.

Defense: F

After giving up 571 yards without forcing a turnover, there’s no other grade to give the San Francisco defense. The Saints offense basically was able to do anything it wanted, and it did so with near-perfect execution. For the seventh straight game, the 49ers gave up 100-plus yards rushing to an opposing back: This time, Mark Ingram carried the ball just 15 times while gaining 158 yards. The second New Orleans RB, Tim Hightower, had 87 yards on 23 carries. That kind of bruising running game just hurts any defense’s morale and energy levels.

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With 38:53 of ball possession, the Saints offense just controlled the game. Brees threw for 323 yards on 28-of-39 passing with three TDs. Eight different New Orleans players had at least two catches in this game, as Brees picked apart the San Francisco defense at will. With the Saints converting 11 of 17 third-down attempts, it was almost impossible for the 49ers defenders to get off the field.

Special Teams: A

Kicker Phil Dawson had another awesome game, making all five of his kicks, including three field goals. One of them was a 49-yard effort, too, so Dawson still has the big leg to make some long kicks. Cornerback JaCorey Shepherd had a great day on kickoff returns, averaging 34 yards per return on three kickoffs. That certainly gave the 49ers offense a boost, whether it was taken advantage of in the end or not. Punter Bradley Pinion was an afterthought in this game, but he did boot a nice 51-yard punt on Sunday afternoon.

Coaching: B

Kaepernick’s day was impressive, for a variety of reasons, despite the interception and fumble. The 49ers QB looked better than he has since mid-2014, in truth. Some of that may have been the bad Saints defense, but credit can also be given to the coaching staff for getting Kaep ready for this game with the extra week of preparation. The defensive woes are hard to pin on the coaching staff, as the endless injuries have decimated the talent level. In truth, it was impressive to only give up 41 points to the New Orleans offense, all things considered.

A road trip to the Arizona desert is on the horizon for the 49ers, and the only good news is that the 2016 Cardinals may not be as good as the 2013-15 group that won a combined 35 games (including the playoffs). Nevertheless, with the challenges of fielding a healthy defense, San Francisco will struggle against any semi-decent opponent for the rest of the year.

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Post Author: Sam McPherson.