Linebacker Joe Staley proved to be a bright spot on the 49ers defense in Sunday's loss, notching 9 tackles including two tackles for a loss, a quarterback hurry, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery.
Both of his tackles for a loss came on stops of one of the league's best in dodging a tackle in Reggie Bush.
"I wasn't spying him. I just had my pass responsibilities and most of the time it ended up being him," said Willis. "It wasn't, 'wherever he goes, you go.' It was just 'line up and play football and be aware of where he is.'"
Willis displayed that awareness when he snuffed out a screen pass to Bush for a 5-yard loss in the second quarter, leading the way for a defense that did an excellent job containing Bush. Heading into the game, Bush was the Saints leading rusher and receiver, but he had only 7 yards receiving and 31 yards rushing against the 49ers.
"They get the ball to Reggie – that was the biggest thing people talked about," said Willis. "We knew we had to watch him, but you have to watch 11 guys on offense. They have a lot of personnel. When it all boils down, there's no excuse. We didn't play the way we are capable of playing. We've got a lot of better football ahead of us, and we have better football inside of us."
Willis got an opportunity to run a delayed linebacker blitz off left end on the first defensive series of the game, but was a bit disappointed that quarterback Drew Brees managed to throw the ball away and avoid the sack.
"Brees is a guy who hasn't been sacked very much, I think the least in the NFL," said Willis. "And, he hasn't been sacked much for a reason. He knows how to get rid of the ball and he's a smart quarterback. I can't take anything away from him today because he played a good game today."
Despite the loss, so did Willis.
The 49ers gave up six sacks on the game, bringing their yearly total over four games to 19.
"I'm sore like after any other game; it's all part of the game," said JT O'Sullivan of taking so many hits. "I felt I got the ball out of my hands on time despite the pressure."
The 49ers defense got a few hurries on quarterback Drew Brees but no sacks. Brees has been sacked only four times in four weeks.
Takeo Spikes was the first to get in Brees' face on Sunday, running a delayed blitz up the middle.
With 4:21 to go in the first quarter, the Saints had just moved into 49ers territory when Takeo Spikes picked off a pass at the 37-yardline. Spikes leapt up to get one hand on the ball and then got both arms around it as he fell to the ground for the interception.
Result for the 49ers post-turnover: Three and Out
Early in the second quarter, after being sacked by Sedrick Ellis, JT O'Sullivan escaped pressure in the pocket, only to be chased down from behind by Will Smith, who forced the ball out. New Orleans recovered along the 49ers sidelines at the 32-yardline.
Result for the Saints post-turnover: 5-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Lance Moore
With 2:34 left in the third quarter, the 49ers were set up at the New Orleans 10-yardline, looking at a 2nd and 5. JT O'Sullivan's throw to the end zone was picked off by Kevin Kaesviharn.
Result for the Saints post-turnover: The Saints drive 91 yards and score on a 1-yard touchdown run by Deuce McAllister.
In the final quarter, O'Sullivan was picked off again on a 1st and 10 throw from the Saints 16-yardline by Tracy Porter.
Result for the Saints post-turnover: Turnover at the goal line
Following O'Sullivan's second interception, Drew Brees fired a deep ball for Devery Henderson that earned 81 yards. The Saints were prepped for another score at the 3-yardline, but a delay of game put them back at the 7. New Orleans went for it on 4th and goal from the 1, but Michael Lewis got his helmet in right at the goal line to force a fumble that was recovered by Patrick Willis.
Result for the 49ers post-turnover: Their first touchdown of the day – a 5-yard O'Sullivan throw to Isaac Bruce.
**Saints 2/ 49ers 3
Total Points off Turnovers
Saints – 14 / 49ers 7
Following his interception, Take Spikes made his way over to the stands to give the football to his mother. He said on the plane ride home that his daughter has since claimed it as her own.
Nate Clements and Ray McDonald were both out on the edge on a pitch play to Bush on but Clements closed quickly and stopped him for a 2-yard loss near the end of the first quarter.
Safety Michael Lewis batted down a pass on the next play to tight end Billy Miller for an incompletion. Lewis also broke up a 3rd down pass in the 3rd quarter, and forced a fumble in the fourth quarter to prevent a touchdown. Lewis finished the game with 11 tackles.
The 49ers got some pressure on punter Steve Weatherford on the first play of the second quarter, leading to an 18-yard punt off the side of his foot, and starting field position at the 30 for the offense.
Allen Rossum enjoyed a nice 33-yard kickoff return along the 49ers sidelines, aided by a facemask penalty to set the offense up inside of Saints territory at the 46.
Rossum nearly took one to the house in the fourth quarter, but Weatherford managed to force him out of bounds along the sidelines to save the score. The return earned 55 yards, and set the offense up at the New Orleans 40.
Several defensive players jumped, but Ray McDonald was called for the foul on a 3rd and 4 play on the Saints second series to hand them a first down.
During the Saints first scoring drive, defensive tackle Ronald Fields was flagged for a facemask penalty, giving New Orleans the ball at the 49ers 8-yardline. Following a false start penalty, Drew Brees delivered an 8-yard throw to Lance Moore, as Manny Lawson just barely missed getting to the ball for an interception.
Following the Saints first touchdown of the game in the second quarter, Allen Rossum caught the kickoff and handed off to Michael Robinson on a reverse. Robinson was stopped at the 17-yardline.
A facemask penalty on Ron Fields gave the Saints a first and goal at the 8-yardline. A false start pushed them back to the 13. Moore caught a pass at the 5 and then another 5-yarder, this one a touchdown to give the Saints a 7-3 lead with 9:31 to go in the second quarter. The 49ers opted to throw on 3rd and 1 but O'Sullivan's pass was nowhere close to Bruce, forcing a three and out and a quick punt.
Wide receiver Isaac Bruce's five receptions against New Orleans moved him past receiver Andre Reed (951) and into fifth place on the NFL's all-time reception list with 953 career receptions.
**Quote To Note
**"It was kind of a reverse of the last game. There's really no one I can point out that played well." – head coach Mike Nolan on the loss