49ers D sets the tone in 36-32 win over Saints

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In the first game with the Giants, Rogers made two interceptions for the first two-pick outing of his seven-year career. Justin Smith batted down Manning’s final pass attempt on fourth-and-2 from the 10 in the closing seconds.

“We got the turnovers and were able to get to Eli,” Rogers recalled. “The team has gotten better since we played them. They’re familiar with us just as we’re familiar with them.”

San Francisco’s determined defenders heard all last week how difficult it would be to stop Brees and Co., knowing many figured they’d fail.

“We got tired of it throughout the week. They gave us no chance,” Goldson said. “They kept talking about the Saints, the Saints, where they stand against us and what they were going to do. We ignored everything and focused on us and what we had to do to come win this game.”

Goldson had six interceptions for the NFC West champions during the regular season, then his biggest yet Saturday. That first-quarter pick snapped Brees’ NFL-record streak of 226 postseason passes without an interception dating to the NFC championship game against Chicago five years ago.

Tarell Brown had the other interception, while special teams standouts Blake Costanzo and Madieu Williams each forced a fumble.

“Our guys were humming. We were able to pry a couple out and that was big,” Fangio said. “The interceptions were big also.”

The Niners were No. 1 in the NFL in stopping the run during the season and didn’t allow a rushing TD on Saturday after the Saints scored three on the ground in a 45-28 win over the Detroit Lions in the Superdome in last weekend’s wild-card round.

The Saints produced a playoff-record 626 yards against the Lions, with Brees throwing for 466 yards while completing 33 of 43 passes.

“I had figured coming into this game they would feel like, `Let’s keep everything in front of us, let’s not give up big plays and obviously do a good job against the rush and try to put them in third-and-long situations,’” Brees said. “They did, yet again, a great job stopping the run in a lot of cases which we felt like in order to really get chunks, we would have to throw it. Obviously that’s a great defense. It’s one of the best defenses in the league.”

Goldson was re-signed to a one-year contract as a free agent in August to complement newcomers and fellow defensive backs Whitner and Carlos Rogers. Against the Saints, Goldson had a team-leading 11 tackles to go with the first-quarter interception and two passes defensed. Bowman also made 11 tackles, 10 of those solo.

“We got some spectacular stops,” Harbaugh said. “On third down, I thought they were outstanding. Five takeaways in the game. I know the special teams contributed to that as well. Very opportunistic today. Got pressure on their quarterback. Made plays on the ball, and made them when they were there to be made. Our guys in the secondary made them. It was a terrific job by our defense, once again. You just love the way they play. You love the way they compete. Love how hard they work on the field.”

The 49ers sacked the record-setting Brees three times, including rookie Aldon Smith’s pounding for an 11-yard loss on third down in the first quarter. All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith brought Brees to the ground for a 9-yard loss in the third quarter and Ahmad Brooks added a fourth-quarter sack on which Brees lost 7 yards.

“We wanted to come out and play our style of football, which is playing physical, being a great tackling team, and playing with good fundamentals which has carried us all year,” Fangio said. “We just wanted to play the way we’ve played all year, particularly starting early in the game.”

Whitner definitely did his part.

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