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Notebook: Defense Scores Twice in Win

Posted Nov 25, 2012

Now Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner know what it’s like to haul in a touchdown catch from Drew Brees.

The prolific New Orleans quarterback has made a living throwing the pigskin for six points throughout his career, but on Sunday he also threw the ball to a couple guys in white jerseys. Brooks and Whitner each had impressive interception touchdown returns for the 49ers, who moved to 8-2-1 with a decisive 31-21 road victory against the Saints.

It was just the latest display in what’s been a strong season-long effort from the 49ers defense.

“That’s our identity,” Whitner said. “It’s smart, hard-nosed, physical football and that’s the way we’re going to continue to play.”

Following Sunday’s performance, Whitner can also describe the defense as a group capable of posting points on the board.

With about 30 seconds left in the first half, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Brooks was lurking in the Saints logo at midfield. Brees saw the 49ers linebacker, but tried to fit the ball into a tight window to his receiver. Bad choice.

One moment, Brooks snatched the ball out of the air. The next, he was sprinting past Brees down the right sideline with the ball in one hand and six points on the board.

“We know that Drew Brees is one of the top passing quarterbacks in the NFL,” Brooks said after scoring his first career touchdown. “But we just wanted to collapse the pocket as much as possible to try to get him off his mark and try to get his mind boggled.”

Mission accomplished.

Perhaps the only person happier than Brooks after the interception was Colin Kaepernick. Two plays earlier, the 49ers quarterback threw an ill-advised interception of his own.

"We got the win and that's all that matters," said Kaepernick, who went 16 of 25 for 231 yards and a touchdown in his second career start.

Brooks’ big play – one of his many on the day – proved to be the first of three quick-strike touchdowns that turned the tide in San Francisco’s favor near intermission. Kaepernick and Co. put together a six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in 2:43 to start off the second half before Whitner turned in his pick six two plays later.

That’s how you score 21 points in less than four minutes.

“Huge plays, big plays by the defense,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Really swung the game for us – two interceptions for touchdowns. Great job by Ahmad, looked like he was shot out of a cannon after he intercepted that ball. Donte Whitner, also a great job in getting that touchdown.”

Whitner’s touchdown – just the second of his career – was a result of the hard-working ways of his partner-in-crime, Dashon Goldson. The fellow 49ers safety upended Saints receiver Marques Colston and sent the ball flying, as Whitner snatched it from the air and went 42 yards before reaching the end zone for a 28-14 49ers lead with 11:30 left in the third quarter.

After watching Whitner and Goldson lay big hits on opponents all year long, Colston suffered from a classic case of “gator arms.”

“Give credit to Dashon,” Whitner said. “He made the play, really. He broke on the football, was physical with Colston and when you’re physical with guys they tend to not focus on the football. We call that ‘gator arms’ on the defensive side of the ball.”

Brees was under constant pressure all night, as the 49ers caused five sacks and limited the Pro Bowl quarterback to 267 yards on 26 of 41 passing. The New Orleans rushing attack was also held in check Sunday, as the Saints amassed just 59 yards on 21 attempts.

For the 49ers, it marked the first time since 2009 that they scored two defensive touchdowns in the same game.

“(Defensive coordinator) coach (Vic) Fangio, he’s our captain, he’s our general,” defensive leader Patrick Willis said. “Collectively, from our defensive coordinator to our coaches to our players, we’re able to be on one accord and anytime you have that, you set yourself up for something good.

“We have the most unselfish players on this defense and that’s what makes it so fun to be a part of.”

Aldon Smith on Historic Pace

One by one, Aldon Smith is blowing by Hall of Famers as he climbs up the statistical ranks to start his career.

The current NFL sack leader added 1.5 more quarterback takedowns to his total on Sunday, bringing his season mark to 16.5. Smith also became the fastest player to reach 30 career sacks, as he accomplished the feat in just the 27th game of his career, one faster than the previous mark of 28 held by the late, great Reggie White. With his next sack, Smith will also break White’s NFL record of 31 sacks in the first two years of his career.

Justin Smith and Brooks were also credited with 1.5 sacks each as Willis was credited with a half-sack to bring the team totals to five on the afternoon.

“Everybody just came out and played their ‘A-game,’” Aldon Smith said. “Everybody was on their game and ready to go, and we’ve got a bunch of playmakers.”

Mr. Do It All

Delanie Walker has made a name for himself as the do-it-all man on the offense who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. On Sunday, we was able to put his hands to use in the passing game.

The talented tight end, renowned for his stellar blocking, caught three passes for a game-high 81 yards.

“(Kaepernick) made some great throws,” Walker said. “I told him I owed him from last week for dropping a pass so we were just connecting this week.”

Walker’s longest catch was a 45-yard connection with Kaepernick that helped set up Frank Gore’s 6-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter. Walker also had a nice third-down catch for 25 yards in the fourth quarter as he held on while being tackled in midair. It marked Walker’s first three-catch outing since Week 10 of the 2011 season.

Notes and Quotes

Brandon Jacobs appeared to carry the ball for the first time in a 49ers uniform in the third quarter, but it was called back by a holding penalty from Leonard Davis. Jacobs was officially credited with his first 49ers carry later in the game, when he picked up a short gain in the fourth quarter.

Fullback Bruce Miller caught a season-high three passes for a career-high 37 yards out of the backfield, including an impressive, juggling 26-yard catch to end the first quarter.

The 49ers are now 10-3 on the road under Harbaugh’s watch.

“They played physical the whole game,” guard Alex Boone said. “We knew they would all the way until it hit 0:00. They’re a tough team and we knew they would be and that’s just a blue-collar football game right there.”

Game Pass: San Francisco 49ers