This is what makes it appear hopeless for the 49ers in the NFC divisional playoff game Saturday at the ’Stick. Their opponent, the New Orleans Saints, scored 45 points each of their past three games, including Saturday’s wild-card win over the Detroit Lions.
This is what makes it appear less than hopeless for the Niners: The Saints never have won a road playoff game.
On ESPN, Merrill Hoge called it a classic, “offense against defense.”
The Saints have the offense. They gained a playoff-record 626 yards against the Lions, and Drew Brees passed for 466 yards. For some quarterbacks, that’s more like a season, not a game.
The Niners have the defense. They’re fourth in the NFL, and the theory is a good defense will beat a good offense. The problem for San Francisco, in its first playoff game in nine years, is the Saints offense is not good, it’s spectacular.
Especially at the Superdome, where Saturday New Orleans was a 45-28 winner over a Lions team that only lost 25-19 to the Niners in October.
A change from seasons past, certainly, when the Niners of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig were known for offense — “so many weapons” was the phrase — and the Saints’ strength was defense.
The Saints’ hulking offensive line keeps the other team’s defensive linemen out of their backfield, and Brees then keeps the opponent off-balance with play-action passes.
For the 49ers to succeed, they’ll need effective coverage by the defensive backs — Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. And they will need ball control on offense, allowing Brees and the Saints fewer chances. New Orleans had the ball more than 37 minutes against the Lions.
The Saints and Niners each finished 13-3 in the regular season, but San Francisco had a better conference record and got the first-weekend bye and the home game this week, which is fortunate. On the artificial turf at the Superdome, New Orleans was unbeaten in eight games.
The Saints, who somehow lost to Tampa Bay — at Tampa Bay, naturally, in the great outdoors — have a nine-game win streak. “We were pulling out all the stops,” Brees said after the win over Detroit. “We play aggressive. We’re not going to apologize for that. That gives the guys in the huddle a lot of confidence.”
And gives the Saints a lot of points. The fewest they scored in any game this season was 20, in the loss to the Bucs.
While the Saints are a version of New Year’s Eve on Bourbon Street, running wild — or should it be passing wild? — the Niners are efficient. San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith threw only five interceptions the entire season.
“This guy has really risen his game,” Saints cornerback Jabari Greer told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “You’ve got to remember. This is a guy who people were calling to get benched a while back. And it’s truly a testament to his character and his perseverance, the season he’s had.
“Any time you get a person like that, you know you’re going to be in for a four-quarter fight. … We wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Knowing how the Saints have blown out most teams, neither would the 49ers.
WHEN: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Candlestick Park
TV: Fox (KTVU, Ch. 2)
RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)