BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The 49ers defensive continued their dominating play in a 13-0 victory over the New Orleans Saints Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium, stretching their lead in the NFC West with their fourth straight win.
The shutout was San Francisco’s first in three seasons and extended the Niners streak of holding their opponent scoreless in the second half to four straight games, and handed the Saints their first shutout loss since 2002, ending the longest active streak in the NFL at 332 games.
After a first quarter field goal put the Niners (7-4) on the board, Jimmy Garoppolo found Jauan Jennings for a five yard touchdown just before halftime to put the 49ers up 10-0 going into the locker room. It proved to be a large enough cushion for the inspired defense to close the door on any hopes New Orleans (4-8) might’ve had for an upset.
The Saints running game was held to 63 yards, and San Francisco’s defense continued to make big plays every time it seemed that a New Orleans score was inevitable, including forcing two fumbles by Alvin Kamara. In the first half, the Niners didn’t allow more than a single first down on any drive and held the Saints to a meager 4-11 conversion rate on third downs.
With New Orleans seemingly poised to get on the board early in the final quarter, Talanoa Hufanga forced a Kamara fumble at the goal line that prevented a touchdown and was recovered by Dre Greenlaw to kill the threat. Their next possession started at San Francisco’s 39 yard line and ended nine plays later when Nick Bosa sacked Andy Dalton on fourth and goal from the four yard line. The Niners took over on downs with 6:18 remaining and ran out the clock as the Saints never saw the ball again.
Niners running backs Elijah Mitchell and Christian McCaffrey were both injured during the game, although McCaffery returned and got 14 yards on the game clinching drive. Mitchell led San Francisco with 35 yards on seven carries before exiting in the third quarter. Early reports indicated that Mitchell potentially sprained his left MCL in just his second game back from a stint on the injured list.
Asked about his teams defensive effort after the game, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan couldn’t help but gush, “They were unbelievable today. I thought they had a chance to do well, but they even surpassed that. (Saints QB Andy) Dalton made a couple of big throws, getting inside the five twice and our D coming up with no points on that. Them having to go for it, they were great getting the two turnovers. Big time day by them.”
Greenlaw was also more than happy to relive his big moment, ““I saw [Dalton] make eyes with Kamara, 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 Huff that actually made the tackle, he came in and popped the ball out. So I looked in the air, I saw the ball like 30 feet in the air, and I thought 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 plays.”
With a full game lead against the Seahawks in the division and the tiebreaker in hand, the 49ers can now look forward to a visit from the Dolphins next Sunday. Miami (8-3) also comes in a roll, having won five in a row since the return of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to overtake Buffalo for the lead in the AFC East.