The Niners were No. 1 in the NFL in stopping the run during the season and didn't allow a rushing TD on Saturday after the Saints scored three on the ground in a 45-28 win over the Detroit Lions in the Superdome in last weekend's wild-card round.
The Saints produced a playoff-record 626 yards against the Lions, with Brees throwing for 466 yards while completing 33 of 43 passes.
"I had figured coming into this game they would feel like, 'Let's keep everything in front of us, let's not give up big plays and obviously do a good job against the rush and try to put them in third-and-long situations,'" Brees said. "They did, yet again, a great job stopping the run in a lot of cases which we felt like in order to really get chunks, we would have to throw it. Obviously that's a great defense. It's one of the best defenses in the league."
Goldson was re-signed to a one-year contract as a free agent in August to complement newcomers and fellow defensive backs Whitner and Carlos Rogers. Against the Saints, Goldson had a team-leading 11 tackles to go with the first-quarter interception and two passes defensed. Bowman also made 11 tackles, 10 of those solo.
"We got some spectacular stops," Harbaugh said. "On third down, I thought they were outstanding. Five takeaways in the game. I know the special teams contributed to that as well. Very opportunistic today. Got pressure on their quarterback. Made plays on the ball, and made them when they were there to be made. Our guys in the secondary made them. It was a terrific job by our defense, once again. You just love the way they play. You love the way they compete. Love how hard they work on the field."
The 49ers sacked the record-setting Brees three times, including rookie Aldon Smith's pounding for an 11-yard loss on third down in the first quarter. All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith brought Brees to the ground for a 9-yard loss in the third quarter and Ahmad Brooks added a fourth-quarter sack on which Brees lost 7 yards.
"We wanted to come out and play our style of football, which is playing physical, being a great tackling team, and playing with good fundamentals which has carried us all year," Fangio said. "We just wanted to play the way we've played all year, particularly starting early in the game."
Whitner definitely did his part.
"I told myself that I was going to hit anything moving today and that I was going to be extremely physical, even if I hit my own guys," he said. "Luckily, I didn't hit too many of my own guys."
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