Colin Kaepernick was good Sunday, but the 49ers defense was even better.
The NFC West-leading Niners beat the Saints in New Orleans 31-21 in just Kaepernick’s second NFL start to run their record to 8-2-1.
All week leading up to the game the biggest storyline revolved around who would start at quarterback. Would it be Alex Smith, who started the first nine games of the season but was sidelined by a concussion halfway through a game against the Rams three weeks ago? Or would it be Kaepernick, who led the 49ers over the Bears Monday night in his first NFL start?
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh said he’d go with “the hot hand,” and picked Kaepernick, who completed 16-of-25 throws vs. the Saints for 231 yards and a TD, while also running for 27 yards and another score.
But the hottest hands belonged to the 49ers defense.
Once again, San Francisco’s defenders were dominating, sacking Drew Brees five times and holding New Orleans’ running game to just 59 yards.
Plus, linebacker Ahmad Brooks and safety Donte Whitner made the biggest plays of the game, each returning a Brees interception for a score.
Brooks’ pick turned the game around.
With New Orleans up 14-7 and driving, Brooks’ 50-yard return just before halftime tied the game.
Then, in the third quarter, the 49ers went 80 yards in six plays on their first possession, with Kaepernick hitting Frank Gore on a 6-yard pass play to put San Francisco up 21-14.
Just moments later, on the Saints’ next possession, Brees’ pass intended for Marques Colston went off Colston’s hand and landed in Whitner’s. Whitner then sprinted 42 yards to give the 49ers a 28-14 lead.
NFL sack leader Aldon Smith, coming off a 5½-sack night against the Bears, added 1½ sacks Sunday for the Niners to run his two-season career sack total to 30½, the second-most in league history over a player’s first two seasons (behind Reggie White’s 31).
Offensively, the Niners were solid, with Kaepernick efficient (he completed 64 percent of his passes) while using his feet to avoid being sacked. He threw an interception, but otherwise used his strong arm to make some big completions downfield including completions of 45 yards to Delanie Walker, 40 to Mario Manningham and 26 to Bruce Miller.
The 49ers were also able to run the ball effectively, with 144 yards on 31 carries (4.6 per attempt), with Gore leading the way with 83 yards.
Next up for the Niners is a trip to St. Louis to face the Rams this coming Sunday.
As for who will start at quarterback, the speculation (for now) is over. It will be Kaepernick.