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.
“With two good defenses, I don’t think it’s going to be high scoring,” Rogers said. “That’s what everybody wants to see because it’s the Saints. We don’t give up a lot of points.”
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 is three-point favorites and can already envision that premier matchup with defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay in the NFC championship game next weekend. Yet Saints coach Sean Payton insists his team found out the hard way last year and doesn’t want to fall in another upset after losing the wild-card game to Seattle.
“When you finish the season and you finish with a tough loss, that’s something you remember and you really remember forever,” Payton said. “There are certain things you learn from. You understand the finality of this time of the year and you never take things for granted. All of us, players and coaches, will all carry that tough loss with us, just as we will the really good wins we have.”
The 49ers plan to stick with what got them this far.
They should be fresh and healthy after a week off as the NFC’s No. 2 seed. The Saints chased them late in the year hoping to steal the second spot. One thing these Niners don’t do is make many mistakes.
They had 38 takeaways to only 10 turnovers for a plus-28 turnover differential, which matched the 2010 Patriots for the second-best mark in NFL history since 1941.
“All the major statistics, they rank very high,” Saints wideout Marques Colston said. “I think the No. 1 thing they do is cause turnovers. So obviously that’s going to be first and foremost for us this week.”
“I really don’t care. I’m looking to outscore him. He can throw for however many yards he wants to,” Smith said. “A lot of different ways to win games in this league. Obviously offensively, they’re doing a lot of great things right now. Record-setting offense. It’s kind of what you aspire to get to, no question. … It is what it is. It still comes down to scoring more points than the other team and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
San Francisco turned things around at last with Coach of the Year favorite Harbaugh running the show and doing things his way.
His message this week: “Don’t overcook it.”
“Like a burnt piece of meat, that doesn’t taste real good,” said Harbaugh, whose Niners have lost the last six to the Saints. “Trust their own instincts. Trust their gut. Make it about the team. Trust the team. A guy doesn’t have to do too much. I think our team goes into this game confident and bold.”
Running back Frank Gore gets it.