New Orleans fans, I know this may be painful. But you might want to reflect on Saturday’s 36-32 playoff loss to San Francisco to learn some lessons that may help you in the future.
Let’s turn to ESPN Stats & Information for some numbers that help explain what went wrong in New Orleans’ loss.
Drew Brees threw for 462 yards and four touchdowns, but San Francisco’s Alex Smith had the better day. That’s my opinion, but it’s also backed up by the Total QBR for both players. Smith finished with a 78.1 Total QBR, while Brees was at 62.0, which is only slightly above an “average’’ score (50). Brees’ score was dragged down by the fact he threw two interceptions and was sacked three times. It also didn’t help that he completed just three of nine passes that traveled 15 or more yards in the air. Smith’s Total QBR was pulled up dramatically by a 99.7 score in the fourth quarter as he led two touchdown drives.
The Saints now have lost all five of their road playoff games in franchise history. That ties them with the Bengals for most road losses without a win in postseason history. The Super Bowl victory in Miami doesn’t count because that was a neutral site.
Darren Sproles finished with a postseason-record 15 receptions. The previous record was 13 and had been done four times. Sproles (119 yards), Marques Colston (136) and Jimmy Graham (103) each had over 100 receiving yards.
San Francisco’s game-winning touchdown pass from Smith to Vernon Davis came with nine seconds left. Only three game-winning touchdowns in postseason history came with less time remaining.
The Saints couldn’t cover Davis, who finished with seven catches for 180 yards. That was especially true when the 49ers sent Davis downfield. On throws of 11 yards or more, Smith connected with Davis on all five attempts for 167 yards and two touchdowns. In the past four seasons, Davis never had five catches of 11 yards or more in a single game and only had one multi-touchdown game.
The New Orleans defense was exceptionally vulnerable when Smith was passing between the numbers on the field. He averaged a touchdown every 7.3 attempts, after averaging a touchdown every 24.6 attempts during the regular season. Smith had three touchdowns on throws inside the numbers and averaged 9.4 yards per attempt.
As expected, the Saints blitzed Smith a lot. In the first three quarters, the Saints sent four or fewer rushers on only nine of Smith’s 33 dropbacks (27.3) percent. But, in the fourth quarter, the Saints cut back on the blitz and sent four or fewer rushers on 50 percent of Smith’s dropbacks and he burned them. In the fourth quarter, Smith completed all six of his passes, including the game winner, when he was not blitzed.
The 49ers stunned the Saints when Smith ran for a touchdown on third and seven with 2:11 remaining. During the regular season, quarterbacks attempted a designed running play on third and seven or more only 2.4 percent of the time and only one of those 81 carries resulted in a quarterback scoring a touchdown (Miami’s Chad Henne against New England in Week 1).