In what was arguably the best game of the season, the 49ers went head-to-head with the Saints in a 48-46 shootout as 49ers kicker Robbie Gould kicked the game-winner in the waning seconds of regulation. Here are your Week 14 Studs and Duds of the game. The 49ers are now back atop the NFC West division with a 11-2 record as the Seahawks subsequently lost to the Rams on Sunday Night Football. With victories over the Packers and Saints, the 49ers technically have the tie-breaker for the top overall seed in the NFC Conference—albeit the outcome of the final three games of the season.

Studs


Kyle Shanahan


It's rare that a defense allows the opposition to hang 46 points and still come away with a win but that's exactly what happened at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Credit 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan for coming through with a full array of plays. Just one week earlier, people were critical of his play-calling—especially on fourth-and-1 against the Ravens. I'll get to that part later.

On Sunday, the 49ers' defense failed to deliver the sort of performance we're used to seeing as the 49ers went down 7-20 as early in the first half. Saints quarterback Drew Brees had accounted for four touchdowns in the first half alone if that's an indication of anything.

To put that in perspective, the 49ers' defense had yet to allow 30 points and 300 passing yards to any opponent all season. The defense wasn't going to win this game--so Shanahan responded accordingly.

I can go on in detail over every play that exemplifies the wizardry of Shanahan this game, but I'll let the numbers speak for themselves. The 49ers rushed for 162 yards on a 6.75 yard per carry average with several 15+ yard runs by running backs Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, and even receiver Deebo Samuel. 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ended up matching Brees with 349 passing yards going 26-of-35 for four passing touchdowns in a hostile Saints territory.


The matchup was a gem to see two innovative play-callers in Shanahan and Saints head coach Sean Payton for what could be a preview of things to come. Just one week earlier, Shanahan admittedly wanted to have called a better play on that critical fourth-and-1 against the Ravens. A special shoutout goes to 49ers tight end George Kittle. Kittle was targeted on both fourth down plays but against the Saints, the Garoppolo-Kittle connection finally hit for the biggest play of the season.


Jimmy Garoppolo


Down early, Garoppolo's confidence never wavered as he finished with the best game of his career. Not only did Garoppolo match Brees in a shootout, he technically outdueled him as Garoppolo led the 49ers down the field for the game-winning field goal. Naysayers continue to doubt the validity of Garoppolo's success throughout the season but in a game where Shanahan needed him to execute, Garoppolo certainly had the look of a franchise quarterback.


Nick Bosa


The 49ers' defensive line surprisingly didn't register any sacks against a stationary quarterback in Brees but it's not like the entire group was a no-show. 49ers rookie Nick Bosa continues to play at a high level and contributed in a variety of ways. Bosa made key stops in containing the likes of Saints' Tayson Hill and Alvin Kamara in the run game. Per Pro Football focus, Bosa finished the game with an 81.0 run-defense grade with plays like this:


Duds


Fred Warner


After receiving NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors in November, Fred Warner's start to December remains a work in progress.

While Warner made a key tackle to stop the Saints' two-point conversion attempt by Hill, he finished with just three tackles. Warner allowed Saints tight end Jared Cook to score their first touchdown while also missing another key tackle against Saints receiver Tre'Quan Smith for their final touchdown.


It's not all Warner's fault when you consider fellow linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair and safety Marcell Harris were pressed into action because of injuries but nonetheless, the Saints' offense exploited the middle of the field.

Secondary Play


There is no one in particular out of the secondary that gets the bulk of the blame. Rather, I'd prefer to group everyone together because each player had their moments.

The group took a hit early on with cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K'Waun Williams going in-and-out of the lineup with injuries. Harris started at strong safety to replace Jaquiski Tartt and struggled in coverage. 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon got exploited on several occasions against Saints receiver Michael Thomas—though that could be expected.

When Sherman left the game late in the fourth quarter, the Saints immediately targeted defensive back D.J Reed for a 25-yard gain by Saints receiver Tedd Ginn Jr. Penalties by the secondary also extended the Saints' drives on several occasions.

For a 49ers' secondary regarded as the top pass defense in the NFL, I'm sure they're happy the offense was there to come up with the victory. They need to be better moving forward.

Injuries


The 49ers came away with the win but it certainly came at a cost for the team moving forward. While the team has certainly been resilient in finding players to step up this season, the toll from this game is high—especially so late in the season.


That's five starters on both sides of the field that the 49ers will need to persevere through. 49ers defensive end Dee Ford reaggravated his hamstring and could be out for a bit while Sherman, D.J. Jones, and Williams are a work in progress. The biggest hit from Sunday is the loss of 49ers center Weston Richburg, who was having an excellent season in pass protection. Richburg was replaced by Ben Garland but it remains to be seen how the 49ers will adjust the offensive line moving forward.
  • Justin Wong
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    Justin Wong has been writing for the 49ers Webzone since 2017 while also running an NFC West blog and podcast called Just The West. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @JustTheWest on Twitter.