Interceptions, muff punts key three-game skid

NEW ORLEANS — Here is how the 49ers (4-6) graded in Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the host Saints (7-2):


Nick Mullens started 6-of-7 for 47 yards on the 49ers’ opening drive that produced their only touchdown, a catch by Brandon Aiyuk. That ends the feel-good portion of this report. The two, lollipop passes Mullens had intercepted were doomsday scenarios in the second half. He came out confident, then regressed fast. Aiyuk’s career-high 14 targets (seven catches, 75 yards) show just how trustworthy he is. Three of Kendrick Bourne’s four receptions were third-down conversions. Jordan Reed’s one-handed scoop made for the catch of the year. Richie James followed up his 184-yard bonanza with three catches for 26 yards (and a special-teams issue we grade down below). The pass protection yielded a couple big hits but that is customary in 2020.


Yuck. This unit’s failure derailed the 49ers’ offense more than any of Mullens’ interceptions. Well, maybe not, but for a run-oriented offense, the 49ers absolutely failed. Jerick McKinnon averaged 1.8 yards per carry (18 for 33 yards), and that dismal showing reflected in a fourth-and-1 run that lost 2 yards. Six of his 18 carries (33 percent) for no or minus yards. JaMycal Hasty’s season-ending collar bone fracture is such a bummer; he was one of the bright spots to groom these final games.


Let’s celebrate rookie Javon Kinlaw’s 1 1/2 sacks, and, while we’re at it, rejoice at his modest response about his first sack (of Taysom Hill): “I mean it’s just one. It’s just one.” Wait, there was more to celebrate. The 49ers allowed just 139 passing yards and one touchdown to the Saints’ prolific offense. Jimmie Ward had a couple pass breakups (and a hit that might get him fined), but, more encouraging, Robert Saleh finally paired Ward with Tarvarius Moore, and, in a nice twist, Marcell Harris played in a package (dime back or pseudo-linebacker) to add a speedy punch. Kerry Hyder exemplifies the 2020 defense: Overachieving hustler


Alvin Kamara had only 15 yards on eight carries, but he ran for two touchdowns (on top of 83 yards on 7 receptions). None of the Saints’ 30 carries went beyond 18 yards, so that is a positive. Fred Warner only had five tackles and opponents are wisely avoiding him. Dre Greenlaw amassed 11 tackles (but was late on a Kamara touchdown catch). Kinlaw and D.J. Jones fared well as interior run stuffers early on in the game.

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