49ers 48, Saints 46: Grades

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) greets San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) after an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The 49ers won 48-46. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

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.

This article has 64 Comments

  1. Thanks Grant….good game to cover ….great job as always grades seem fair…….

    I have the coaches= Saleh C did a good job with injuries…but too many blown coverages and confusion

    Kyle an A….won the game

  2. I don’t believe Witherspoon actually hit Cook in the head, I seem to recall that he hit Cook in the chest/shoulder area. Cook then hit the turf hard and slammed his head. Good, clean hit by Witherspoon, bad luck for Cook. I think that was another bad call by the officials, Witherspoon lead with his shoulder, and it was just tough luck for Cook.

  3. Yes, the Niner defense gave up way too many points, and way too many yards. They struggled, but it was against a 10-2 team, with Brees Kamara and Thomas.
    The DBs deserved their D, because when Sherman went out, they left a WR uncovered. Even with Saleh struggling, he prevented them from converting two- 2 point plays.
    I think the coaching deserve an A-.

  4. I noticed they were giving Staley help early on in the ballgame until he got his legs under him. Wise move.

    Jimmy has proven the doubters wrong.

    Saleh should be ashamed of giving up that many points with the players and coaching staff he had at his disposal.

    Losing Richburg is a big loss, but victory is ever so sweet!

    Grant Cohn, C- for lack of punctuality….

  5. I’ve never seen Garappolo try to extend plays as much as he did against the Saints. I’ve also complained for the last few years that the 49er receivers seemed to give up after the play blows up and their routes are covered….like they need to run scramble drills and learn to come back to the QB. This game they did that !

    Garappolo’s had other big games numbers wise. But this is one of the first games where I felt like his passing actually commanded the offense and was dictating to the defense. His other big games it seemed more like he made the easy throw…either a screen, first read or wide open player due to play action. This game he seemed to command and dictate to the defense from the pocket where the ball was going.

    1. Jimmy G seems to be getting more comfortable both moving within the pocket and also on scrambles — putting the injury behind.

  6. That wasn’t a penalty on Moore. They explained why no PI on fake punt passes on the sidelines. Otherwise that’s always a PI.

    1. The controversy isn’t about defensive PI on the fake punt pass play. It’s defensive holding which is technically still illegal on that play. But here’s the thing…Refs generally let a lot of that stuff go during Punt plays as long as the guy doesn’t pull down the other guy. But there’s no way for a defender or Ref to know if it’s a Punt or a Pass play until the ball is thrown and by then the guys are down the field pushing, shoving and grabbing all along the way. So from the Ref and the defender’s point of view it’s Punt play business as usual. So technically, I suppose there could have been defensive holding called. But I don’t think that goes with the intention of the rules that the Refs go by.

      1. They are not going to call that play. It’s not like holding on a pass route. The bumping and grabbing on punts would be called on every play.

  7. Shanny did not outcoach Payton. Payton schemed up an offence that scored 46 points against this defence. Shanny coached a terrific game in his own right, but this was a case where both had terrific games.

    I don’t think Salah was hugely responsible, because execution looked like it was lacking. Particularly in the secondary. However, I do think Head Coach talk should cool a bit. He’s only in his third year as a DC. Let him learn a bit more, then we can talk about him leading a franchise.

    As for rest of the grades, eh, who cares about grades. Heck of a win. Will have to heal up and gut it out, but back to back home games coming up here times up nicely. Just going to enjoy this win for a bit – I don’t think it spells doom for the defence or anything. Lots of teams end up in shootouts at the Dome. Few actually win them.

    1. I beg to differ. KS did not make any unforced errors, and they sliced and diced the Saints defense.
      KS did out coach Payton, because he defeated Payton.

    2. Niners did coach better than Saints.
      They made up a 13 point gap and gained two points in the second half;
      and the Saints did nothing with the final 36 seconds and two timeouts of that half.
      Saints had very short fields due to a deflection pick and return yards; and Niners quickly took back momentum with knockout punching offense.

      Should these teams meet again, I’d predict Niners 35 to 13.

  8. Shanahan bailed out Saleh over and over… Payton schooled Saleh throughout the game but thankfully Saleh has the best playcaller in the NFL on his side…. Aside from the forced fumble by Jones and non-stop motor by Bosa the D was a wet paper bag. Better get their crap together because the offense will need them in the playoffs.

    1. Agree, Red. First 4 times Saints had the ball, they marched down the field and scored a TD. With the players Salad has at his disposal, I would think this is not acceptable. Everybody has a bad day…………….but I dont think the Defensive game plan last week was a good one at all…..
      Jackson and Roman? Basically Kap and Roman, 2012. How to stop that has already been figured out………….
      I’m not a Saleh fan, but I hope he proves me wrong.

  9. I was expecting Jimmy G to lose the game on the last chance to lead the team down the field. He proved he could win a big game on his shoulders thanks to an incredibly gutsy play by George Kittle. This would’ve been a repeat of the Raven’s game without him. He and E Sanders were the stars of this game. Now unleash the Hounds against the Falcons next week.

    1. It’s also worth noting that today’s 2 best offensive receiving weapons, basically missed Seahawks’s game. As did Gould, who drilled today’s game winner as the clock expired!

    1. Grant is not talking about PI; he is talking about defensive holding, which was occurring but which is not reviewable (and is hard to call on a punt given the guy covering the gunner is supposedly blocking).

  10. Man what a game…..I thought it was a huge mistake by KS to not call TO when Sherman left injured and Reed came in completely confused. Could have cost the game, but other than that beautifully coached game. Jimmy was fantastic. These injuries are definitely concerning, interested to see the injury report.

    1. LEO: I was yelling the same thing to my TV. Turned out in the end to be a good thing he didn’t call the timeout, since we used one on the 4th and 2 to avoid delay of game.

  11. Two things were said this off season. Mullen’s is as good as JG and Bosa was a bad pick. You guys know who you are. You deserve your football card taken from you. But you know what I forgive you guys….. NINERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Grant,

    You take a lot of flak, including from me, when you go on your “Grant Rants.” But to your credit, you admit when you’re wrong and give props when they’re due. And there was no hiding from it, Jimmy G deserved some high praise for this game. He carried the team on his shoulders and played an almost flawless game.

    Spot on grades and analysis. Enjoy your insight. Curious about your thoughts on losing Richburg for the year.

    1. I don’t read his stuff as often especially after he said that they need to fire JL and KS, about a year ago. As we know JL can draft and KS can coach. Did he ever admit he was wrong on that brilliant opinion? He will also be wrong Garoppolo, when he was on a rant that Mullins is better than Jimmy.

  13. So proud of this team! They went into a tough environment, against a really good, complete team (top 10 Defense, top 5 offense), and came out victorious!

    Let’s not forget that this 3 game stretch was the most difficult in NFL History for any team this late in the season, we came away 2-1, and are two missed field goals away from possibly being undefeated! That’s a total of six points margin of loss through week 14! The whole team gets an A+++

    Thanks Grant for facilitating great discussions and your consistent updates. I don’t always agree with you, but I always appreciate your insights. I also appreciate that you acknowledge when you’re wrong, or misjudged, I.e. the JG acknowledgement in this post. Respect.

    Go Rams (for tonight only!)
    Go Niners – For Life!!!!

    1. It not that he was missing open receivers, they were all pretty much covered with no separation. To change the subject can’t believe David Carr throws the ball away on 4th down a yard away from the end zone.

      1. It’s just my opinion but Brady looks tired to me…and Carr is a dillweed. That 4th down play was funny though.

  14. On that last 3 downs JG threw two bad passes, out of reach of the receivers.
    On 4th down, Kittle rescued the squad!
    The face mask penalty was ridiculous. The guy tried to rip Kittle’s head off!
    The guy should have been ejected from the game for unsportsmanlike conduct

    I’m still recovering from all the trick plays, come backs, turnovers etc.
    What a game!!!

      1. It was a desperate but smart play by the DB. If he does not grab his face mask Kittle scores and they lose. The only chance he had was to hold him until he got help. Kittle still did not score and the Niners had to make a field goal to win. Once he grabbed his mask he had nothing to lose by continuing to hold and use it. The thing is that Kittle still made yardage dragging both the defender hanging on to his mask and the two other guys.

  15. Big win. As a spectacle it was great fun to watch. Excellent offense from both teams. JG really showed he is capable of putting the team on his back if needed against top competition.

    From a defensive standpoint, the team has shown it can struggle against teams that neutralise the pass rush. Today the Saints achieved that by getting rid of the ball quickly. The coverage was pretty ordinary by both the LBs and DBs.

    However, in a game where offense dominated the game came down to a few big plays by the Ds. The 49ers had enough big plays to take the W. Those stops on the 2-point conversions were big, as was the fumble recovery.

    1. Jimmy looked like the Jimmy of 2019. But we know he is capable of that sort of game. We don’t need or should expect this good of an effort on every game, but we just need more consistency with respect to his performance. What he did in this game that was encouraging is that he only made one questionable throw. He played really smart this game. That interception was on a tip and those shouldn’t even count.

  16. Everything happens for a reason.
    Without that hit to the head on their TE and without Warner’s missed tackle for the Saints last score, we were probably watching overtime in NO.
    Then again if the blind ref had called the obvious face mask on their receiver they don’t get 3.
    This shows every down is important and sometimes bad or no calls or missed tackles are a blessing. Never give up.
    Saints left to much time on that clock.
    And if their defender doesn’t grab kittle by the mask, he’s scoring on in the ten anyways.
    Smart defensive play by the defender there.

    Jimmy has arrived, the offense is finally clicking, the defense had a let down game.
    Injuries keep piling up to key positions,
    And the Niners continue to find a way.

    Hats off to Payton. He called a hell of a an offensive game plan, and the saints stuck with it the whole game. Not to many QB’s get rid of the ball that fast all game. If we see them again in Santa Clara. This game won’t be that close.
    But they fought hard, and totally blew my prediction out of the water.
    Dangerous team going into the playoffs, and the Niners probably feeling they can beat the ravens if they see them again, you gotta think the Saints feel the same about us.

    My vitals are good now, and I’m calm.
    Awesome win, and one in that style that’s been needed since the last time they played this team years ago.
    Damn it feels good winning the close game for once!

      1. Kittle is more of an MVP. Jimmy has had some good games but he also has had some bad ones as well. His problem is consistency. There have been some fans that have used that Kittle RAC to claim it was a clutch play by JG. He played a great game but not during that last drive. As was pointed out he threw two bad passes before throwing what should be an easy two yards over the line of scrimmage to Kittle. That is basically a check down that every QB should be able to complete. That does not detract from the accurate game Jimmy had the rest of the game, but it can not be considered a clutch play. Kittle’s amazing effort to turn a short pass into an epic RAC dragging a player hanging on his facemask along with two others into an easy field goal range was clutch.

        1. Kittle is beast. Cannot believe that some talking head declared that Kittle could not block. Mostert and Breida gained 123 yards because of Kittle’s blocking.

    1. He doesn’t have the stats. People see the running game, the defense and he’s not running around making circus plays like Jackson, Wilson or Mahomes.

      That’s ok. He’s a competitor and gives the team a chance to win every week. He’s had 22 career starts, is 18-4, and has lost only 2 times by more than a FG.

  17. The play calling from the start was excellent. KS showed complete faith in JimmyG by coming out with a passing game and sticking with but mixing in some timely runs. The only bad play call I can remember was a 3rd and 1 where he called a run by Tevin Coleman into the middle of a stacked line.

    Kudos to Garland for coming in at an important time and playing well. I was honestly worried about a bad snap at that point, but the line kept its poise when Richburg went down.

    And they even survived a Garret Celek sighting, er, penalty. Why is that guy even still around?

    One other thing, this team plays really well in two-week east coast trips when they stay east.

    Good analysis Grant. Let’s please be done with the Good/Bad JimmyG thing. He is a great QB and shows a great deal of poise.

  18. This is the Jimmy G we all saw at the end of the 2017 season. He seems to have his confidence back. Early last yr he was getting hit every time he dropped back and then blew his knee out. He seemed to lack confidence early this year but now he is back to being that winner that most of us felt he was after 2017. As to the 9ers not needing Pettis or Goodwin, that is especially true with Taylor and Hurd hopefully returning to full strength by next camp. Hopefully The 9ers can sit Ford the next 3 games and the bye week and he can come back fresh and rested for the playoffs,

    1. I really liked his first down run, and the plant he put down on the Juice pass that got the flag.
      Planted on the foot very solid to make the throw.
      I think it’s safe to say it’s all good now.

  19. Grant, I appreciate all of your hard work. I have a couple of questions for you:

    Why do you think all season long our Pass Defense has been really good except for this game?
    Do you think that our next 3 opponents will be as successful?
    I know everyone is very excited about the win but if I am also being realistic here, does this concern you as well that the next team will come in and do the same thing?


  20. Posted By Grant Cohn on December 8, 2019

    “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.”

    Seb once said that he “would consider Shanahan less than astute (for letting Kaep walk) if he does not resign Kaep.”

    Now Seb makes excuses to distance himself from his comments, but all who follow knew that Seb said Kaep was a better QB than Jimmy Garoppolo also.”

    By extrapoloation, I guess Seb thinks Grant is “less than astute for making the above JG observation.

    I again extend you the invitation, (for the 4th time) to prove your on board with the current 49er regime and admit that JG is a better QB than Kaep, Seb.

    And I want to see it from the real Seb, not the catfish.

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