49ers hope kicker will be antidote for Saints’ deadly offense

San Francisco— Drew Brees piled up points, yards and accolades in a record-setting season for the new Orleans Saints.

Much of the time, Alex Smith did just enough to get the San Francisco 49ers back in the playoffs for the first time in nine years while a dominant defense and kicking game did the rest.

Everybody is curious to see which of the contrasting styles works best in a classic playoff matchup.

Does that old notion that defense wins championships still hold up these days?

“We’re going to find out,” 49ers punter Andy Lee said.

Brees and the Saints (14-3) come to sold-out Candlestick Park this afternoon riding a nine-game winning streak after gaining 600 yards in each of their last two games, including a playoff-record 626 yards in last Saturday night’s 45-28 win over the Lions. Brees threw for 466 yards and completed 33 of 43 passes.

Since the merger in 1970, a team had gained 600 yards in a game only 11 times in the regular season or playoffs before the Saints did it the past two weeks.

The San Francisco defense knows it will have to keep Brees off the field and pressure him at every chance to slow down these Saints.

“They’re built a little bit differently. They’re typically a lot bigger, they’re more physical,” Brees said. “You look at them statistically, No. 1 against the run, they’re putting all kinds of pressure on the quarterback. … They rarely miss tackles.”

The fact that Lee is such an important figure for the 49ers shows just how different these teams are. the Saints didn’t punt once in their playoff opener.

San Francisco (13-3) also relied on David Akers’ single-season NFL record of 44 field goals to return to the playoffs under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. the 49ers stunned the new York Giants, 39-38, at home in the NFC wild-card game in January 2003.

“This is a game where the better defense will definitely win the game,” new Orleans linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “It’s about us stopping them from doing whatever they want to do. They have to play a different brand of ball and we have to play good in all three phases of the game.”

There have been several noteworthy playoff games featuring teams with opposing styles.

In the NFC championship game after the 1999 season, St. Louis’ “The Greatest show on Turf” group of Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and Marshall Faulk held on for an 11-6 victory over the defensive-minded Buccaneers.

In the 1991 Bills-Giants Super Bowl, new York’s talented defense held off Jim Kelly and the Bills for a 20-19 win.

More recently, a Giants defense led by Michael Strahan pulled off a 17-14 victory over the undefeated Patriots’ Tom Brady and Co. to win the ’08 Super Bowl.

San Francisco’s dominant D has no flashy nickname, just a balanced attack featuring All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith, rookie Aldon Smith and talented linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. and, in the secondary, Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson have six interceptions apiece.

The Saints scored three rushing touchdowns against the Lions, two by Darren Sproles and another from Pierre Thomas. That’s as many as San Francisco gave up during the season, all in the last two games.

New Orleans at San Francisco

Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. today, Candlestick Park, San Francisco

TV/radio: Fox/97.1

Line: Saints by 31/2

Records: new Orleans 14-3, San Francisco 13-3

Series record: 49ers lead 45-24-2 (Saints 25-22, Sept. 10, 2010)

Record vs. spread: new Orleans 13-4, San Francisco 11-4-1

Last week: Saints beat Lions, 45-28; 49ers had bye

Saints offense: Overall (1), rush (6), pass (1)

Saints defense: Overall (24), rush (12), pass (30)

49ers offense: Overall (26), rush (8), pass (29)

49ers defense: Overall (4), rush (1), pass (16)

Streaks, stats and notes: Saints have won six straight against 49ers since losing 2001 season finale in final game before leaving NFC West. … Saints set NFL record by converting league-best 56.7 percent of third-down conversions, including 41.3 percent when needing at least 10 yards. 49ers were second to last, converting 29.4 percent of third downs. … new Orleans has topped 600 yards past two weeks, including playoff-record 626 against Detroit. new England is only other team to gain 600 yards in game this season. … Saints 9-0 at home this season, averaging 41.6 points and 507.4 yards per game, compared to 5-3 on road with 27.3 points and 441.6 yards per game. … new Orleans has lost all four road playoff games in franchise history. … San Francisco playing first playoff game since after 2002 season. Only long snapper Brian Jennings remains from that team. … 49ers had plus-28 turnover margin, leading league in both takeaways with 28 and fewest giveaways with 10. … San Francisco had best average starting spot for drives on offense and defense this season (33.5 and 24.3).

49ers hope kicker will be antidote for Saints’ deadly offense


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