The 49ers upset the Saints in New Orleans 48-46 with a last-second field goal. Here are the 49ers’ grades.
GAROPPOLO: A. Forget Good Jimmy and Bad Jimmy — only one Jimmy played in this game and he was nearly flawless. His completion percentage was 74, he averaged a whopping 10 yards per throwing attempt, tossed four touchdown passes and posted a quarterback rating of 131.7. And he was clutch. Rushed to convert a crucial third down in the fourth quarter and completed a pass to George Kittle to convert the game-defining fourth and two on the final drive. Garoppolo played with poise and confidence the entire game, and he played like a mature veteran. He held the ball with two hands when he got sacked and even threw the ball away. A few days ago, I wrote he would rather take a sack than throw the ball away because he was too concerned with his completion percentage. He proved me wrong. Respect. Garoppolo is a supreme competitor and, if he continues to play maturely the rest of the season, the 49ers probably will win the Super Bowl.
RUNNING BACKS: A-minus. Raheem Mostert led the 49ers with 10 carries and gained 69 yards and one rushing touchdown. He also caught a touchdown pass. He seems to be the 49ers’ freshest and best running back for this stretch run of the season. Matt Breida returned from an ankle injury and gained 54 yards on six carriers. He’s terrific, too. And fullback Kyle Juszczyk drew a pivotal unnecessary-roughness penalty in the fourth quarter which gave the 49ers a first down on third and eight. They scored a touchdown a few plays later. The only running back who struggled was Tevin Coleman, who gained just six yards for the second game in a row. He doesn’t have the speed and explosion he had earlier this season.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A. Emmanuel Sanders caught seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, plus he threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Mostert. Trading for Sanders at the deadline was a brilliant move by John Lynch. Rookie Deebo Samuel caught five passes for 76 yards and ran twice for 33 yards. He is one of the best end-around and reverse runners in the NFL. Drafting him was a good move by Lynch, too. And Kendrick Bourne is one of the league’s best No.3 receivers — he caught two touchdown passes in the red zone. Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, the starting wide receivers during training camp, were inactive. The 49ers don’t need them anymore.
TIGHT ENDS: A. George Kittle caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he made a 39-yard catch and drew a 15-yard facemask penalty on fourth-and-two to put the 49ers deep in field-goal range on the final drive. He is the 49ers’ finest offensive player. They wouldn’t have won this game without him.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: A-minus. They blocked extremely well in the run game, as the 49ers averaged 6.8 yards per carry. They struggled at times in pass protection and gave up three sacks, but they played well in the clutch, even with backup center Ben Garland in the game. Starting center Weston Richburg left on a cart with a knee injury.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: B. They never sacked Brees, but they rarely had time to touch him because Brees got rid of the ball so quickly. Dee Ford left the game with a hamstring injury — he can’t seem to stay healthy. The Saints exploited Nick Bosa early in the game with screen passes and runs in his direction, but he adjusted and played a solid game. All the defensive linemen did. Nose tackle D.J. Jones stripped the ball from Alvin Kamara and DeForest Buckner recovered it. But, the defense gave up 9.9 yards per carry to Latavius Murray, who ran the ball only seven times. Had the Saints given him more carries, the defensive line might have had trouble.
LINEBACKERS: C-minus. Dre Greenlaw did an excellent job covering Kamara, who caught just four passes for 18 yards. But, Azeez Al-Shaair gave up a 26-yard touchdown catch to Saints tight end Jared Cook, and Fred Warner missed some critical tackles.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D. Robert Saleh trusted these guys to covers the Saints receivers man-to-man and they failed. Ahkello Witherspoon missed tackles and gave up a touchdown catch to Michael Thomas. Witherspoon also knocked Cook out of the game with a blow to the head — a huge loss for the Saints. Nickelback K’waun Williams gave up a 49-yard catch to Thomas. Backup safety Marcell Harris gave up a 38-yard touchdown catch to Cook. And Richard Sherman left the game with an injury for the second week in a row.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus. The 49ers gave up 192 return yards to Saints returner Deonte Harris, which is lots of yards. And Tarvarius Moore got away with an obvious defensive holding penalty on Saints wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith during a fake punt. But, Robbie Gould redeemed this group by making both of his field goals, including one to win the game as time expired.
COACHES: B. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh took care of Job No. 1 — shut down Kamara. Unfortunately for Saleh, he couldn’t shut down any else. Had no answer for Michael Thomas. Found no coverages that worked. But, Saleh still was clutch. The Saints went for two two-point conversions, and Saleh stopped their offense both times. Those two points were the difference in the game. Still, head coach Kyle Shanahan was the best coach on the field. He outcoached Sean Payton — the best offensive mind in the NFL. Shanahan was more clever and even-keeled than Payton, who complained to the refs throughout the game. Shanahan improves every week. What a privilege to watch him work.