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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

‘Mission Accomplished’: 49ers defense talks shutting down Saints, RB Alvin Kamara

Nov 27, 2022 at 7:24 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers defense came into Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints having shut out three consecutive teams in the third and fourth quarters of their last three wins. On Sunday they took it to another level, shutting out the Saints for all four quarters in a 13-0 win that gave the 49ers their fourth victory in a row.

The performance came at the right time for the 49ers offense, which faced a tough task against a stout Saints defense and wasn't running on all cylinders the way they were in their previous win, a dominant 38-10 showing over the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico last Monday. But 13 points was more than enough on this day for the 49ers defense, who held the Saints to 260 yards of total offense and just 63 yards on the ground in front of a home crowd at Levi's Stadium.

"They were unbelievable today," head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. "I thought they had a chance to do well, but they surpassed that."

The shutout didn't come easy, either. The 49ers had to dig deep on multiple occasions in order to shut out the Saints, who had two possessions that started in 49ers territory and on two occasions had moved the ball into a first-and-goal situation. But the 49ers kept finding ways to keep them off the scoreboard, both through ferocious play and a little luck (the Saints missed a 48-yard field goal as well). And in the end, the defense led the team to its seventh win of the season.

"It feels great," linebacker Fred Warner said. "That's our goal every week is to shut them out. It's easier said than done. This one was really special because the way we had to get it though. It's not like they were just behind the 50-yard line all game. They were right there sniffing the goal line multiple times. And for guys to stand up -- time kind of slows down in those moments where you're looking your teammates in the eyes and saying, 'We've got to pull this off.' These are the ones you remember forever."

There were a number of highlights for the defense throughout the game, with one of them being its dominance over Saints running back Alvin Kamara. The five-time Pro Bowler was held to just 13 carries for seven yards on the game and committed two fumbles, both of which landed in the hands of 49ers defenders.

"It says mission accomplished," defensive end Nick Bosa said of the team's performance against Kamara and the Saints' running attack. "That's the type of game we expected is them trying to get the run game going, and then doing it with Taysom Hill as well. And whenever you do that it's going be a really good chance. Making a team one-dimensional against us is tough for them."

Sunday marked the first time Kamara lost two fumbles in a game, but the 49ers certainly had the possibility in mind given what Kamara had done earlier in the year. Kamara lost fumbles in consecutive games in September and October, which led Warner to believe it could happen again on Sunday.

"I specifically knew he had given up two this year, once that's kind of in the running back's mind that they're thinking about it a little bit," Warner said. "I think every week we're still trying to attack the ball no matter what. Those were two we really needed given the game."

After an early game fumble that led to a 49ers field goal, Kamara's second fumble resulted in the wildest moment in the game. The play came on a 2nd-and-Goal from the 6-yard line early in the fourth quarter when Kamara caught a pass from quarterback Andy Dalton and had nearly reached the end zone when a hit from safety Talanoa Hufanga sent the ball flying into the air. The ball bobbled around for a bit, touching the hands of multiple players before winding up in the arms of linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who gave the 49ers possession at the 1-yard line.

"(Kamara) was fighting hard, trying to get in the end zone," Greenlaw said of the play. "I was thinking, 'Okay, I might have to just suplex him or something.' But he was still fighting. As soon as I was actually thinking that, my teammates, just crazy effort, came in -- I think it was Huf that made the tackle -- but just came in and popped the ball out. So I looked in the air and saw the ball 30 feet in the air, and I'm like, 'Oh snap.' I'm trying to go get the ball, then I see one of their guys like catch the ball as I'm trying to react to go get it. Then he dropped it, and it was like Christmas right there. It was just right there, so I had to grab it. It was just a crazy, crazy series of plays."

The play helped the defense back up what Greenlaw says they aimed to do from the beginning, which was to make the early field goal the only points the 49ers needed to win.

"Since the start of the game, that's what we were talking about," Greenlaw said. "We were like, they don't score. They don't score, they don't win. I think the offense went down there on the first drive and scored three points. We looked at each other and said, 'Hey man, now it's on us. They don't gotta score no more points.'"

Sunday's performance was the latest in a turnaround from the defense's low point of the season -- a 44-23 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on October 23. The 49ers defense was regarded as one of the NFL's best coming into that game, but that image was cracked a bit when they allowed 529 yards to the high-powered Chiefs offense. The 49ers haven't lost since that game, and their defense has only given up a total of 40 points in the last four wins.

"I think we kind of struggled at the beginning, just trying to figure out who we were as a team, as a defense," Greenlaw said. "But I think with us just being around each other more and having that confidence in each other, I think we're starting to figure out exactly who we are, and we're showing it on Sundays."

And who or what, exactly, is this 49ers defense?

"Shoot, we're the number one defense in the NFL," Greenlaw said. "The scoreboard, it shows it all, but really it's the film, and the film don't lie. You turn on the silent tape and you got to see all eleven people running around fiercely trying to play football and just take somebody's head off. I just don't see that from other teams."

There's still room for improvement as well, plus there's a bigger goal on the horizon. The defense was a strength of the last 49ers team to reach the Super Bowl (2019), but this year's unit thinks the potential is there to be even better, while helping to get the team back to playing football in February.

"We're on our way, for sure," Bosa said. "We made it far that year, and every single year we want to get better, so I think we have the guys to do it, definitely. Everybody who's still here has gotten a lot better since that year, so we definitely can be better."


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