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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

“One blade of grass”: The message that propelled the 49ers to a shutout win over the Saints

Rohan Chakravarthi
Nov 30, 2022 at 4:00 PM--

Fresh off a short week after a game in Mexico City, the San Francisco 49ers fought their way to a 13-0 victory over the New Orleans Saints, providing them a one-game lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West ahead of their Week 15 showdown.

With the short week, alongside the travel and the adjusted practice schedule, many believed that the Saints could've been a potential trap game for the 49ers, given their ability to score in certain weeks, but more importantly, play shutdown defense.

However, the 49ers put those concerns to rest, dialing up their strongest defensive performance of the year and handing the Saints their first shutout in 332 games, when they, coincidentally, were last shutout by San Francisco in Week 17 of the 2001 season.

How did the 49ers' defense achieve their goal of a shutdown game?

It came down to one specific message: one blade of grass.

While the Saints were shut out, they weren't without offensive opportunities, as they crossed their own 40-yard line on seven of their nine drives.

Looking even deeper, the Saints were inside San Francisco territory on five of those drives. The result of each? Punt. Punt. Missed field goal. Fumble. Downs.

While the Saints were either able to move down the field or secure strong starting field position, the 49ers' defense hammered down, especially near the redzone, and were able to shut down opportunities that put New Orleans in unfavorable positions.

On the first of those drives that crossed midfield, the 49ers forced a 3rd & 11 and got off the field after Saints head coach Dennis Allen elected to punt on 4th & 3 from the SF 43.

Then, after starting at the SF 38 on the ensuing drive, the Saints couldn't capitalize, instead committing a holding penalty that killed that drive as the 49ers stayed stout in coverage, forcing yet another punt.

New Orleans drove down the field on their first drive after the half, but failed to capitalize yet again, as Will Lutz couldn't convert a 48-yard field goal.

But, their biggest opportunity came on their next possession, where they drove down the field on a 12-play, 87-yard drive, getting all the way to the 49ers' six-yard line.

However, adamant to not give up yet another "blade of grass", the 49ers' defense converged on running back Alvin Kamara, with Talanoa Hufanga forcing a fumble that Dre Greenlaw recovered at the 1-yard line.

With a two-score game at risk, the defense, which has picked up a struggling offense on several occasions this season, came to light, forcing the second turnover of the game and swaying the momentum at a crucial point in the fourth quarter.

When asked about the mentality of the defense in the redzone, linebacker Dre Greenlaw told reporters that all the team needed was a "blade of grass" in order to not allow the Saints to score on them.

"Yeah, all we need is a blade of grass. That's what we were telling each other on the field, we're telling each other 'not us, they're not scoring on us.' That's our mindset. I feel like everybody, all 11 guys that are on that field, are going to play together as one," Greenlaw said. "That's what it takes in order for us to go out there and keep stopping them down near the red zone like that."

Greenlaw praised the Saints' offense, spearheaded by Kamara and rookie wideout Chris Olave, but expressed that the 49ers were able to get the stop due to their ability to play as a team.

"They're a good team man, so they were able to get down there. But having all 11 guys on one accord and one page, it makes the game a lot easier. We were able to get to stop."

On the fumble play, Greenlaw knew that his teammates were going to come in with crazy effort to stop Alvin Kamara, which resulted in the turnover.

"I saw [Saints QB] Andy [Dalton] make eyes with [Saints RB Alvin Kamara] 41, so I knew he was going to throw the ball to him. He was fighting hard to try to get to the end zone and I was thinking 'okay, I might have to just suplex him or something. He was still fighting and as soon as I was actually thinking that my teammates came in with crazy effort. I think it was [49ers S Talanoa Hufanga] Huff that actually made the tackle, he came in and popped the ball out."

Once that ball was out and active, Greenlaw knew he had to reciprocate that effort, which lead to the fumble recovery and a key stop in the redzone.

"I looked in the air, I saw the ball like 30 feet in the air, and I thought, 'oh, snap.' I'm trying to go get the ball, then I saw one of their guys catch the ball as I'm trying to react to go get it, and then he drops it. It was like Christmas, I was just right there so I had to grab it and yeah, it was a crazy, crazy series of players."

The 49ers defense wasn't done there, as the Saints retained possession at the SF 39-yard line after forcing San Francisco to punt out of their own endzone.

Once again, they drove down into the redzone, getting to a 1st & Goal at the 4-yard line with 6:36 in the 4th quarter down 13 points.

It appeared that a touchdown was imminent. The Saints were due for one after their offensive woes in converting opportunities all game.

However, the "blade of grass" mentality kicked in for the 49ers once again, forcing incompletions on three straight plays before edge rusher Nick Bosa sacked Andy Dalton on 4th & Goal to force a turnover.

The 49ers were able to run out the clock to end the game on offense, meaning that their defense had held opponents scoreless for the fourth straight game.

Cornerback Charvarius Ward shared a similar sentiment to Dre Greenlaw, sharing that the team just needs "one blade of grass" to operate and execute to their fullest potential.

"[The stops in the redzone are] just a testament to our fight. We just need one blade of grass. No matter where they are on the one, two or three yard line. We just have to fight. We're going to continue to fight, not let them get in the end zone no matter how close they get to it," said Ward.

While the shutouts have been vital for the 49ers' defense, linebacker Fred Warner thought this performance was extremely special because it tested the team's will, to which they succeeded.

"[The second half shutouts] feel great. Our goal every week is to shut them out. It's easier said than done. This one was really special because of the way we had to get it. It's not like the Saints were behind the 50 all game," Warner said. "They were right there sniffing the goal line multiple times. For guys to stand up, time slows down in those moments. You're looking at your teammates in the eyes and saying, 'We have to pull this off.' These are the ones you remember forever."

Despite the circumstances going their way, the 49ers willed out a tough, gritty win in the way they knew best: through the power of their defense.

Now, San Francisco will host the Miami Dolphins in a Week 13 showdown between one of the league's best defenses and best offenses.

After a porous performance in Week 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs, the 49ers' defense will look to showcase their talents in another tough challenge, where their "one blade of grass" mentality will be vital to eliminating opportunities for their opponent.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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