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49ers-Saints was a delightfully unexpected points avalanche

Two of the best defenses in the NFL took the day off in New Orleans.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to imagine anyone thought the high-stakes Week 14 matchup between the 49ers and Saints would be one of the highest-scoring games of the season. Both teams have been well-balanced all year with impressive defenses, but you wouldn’t know the latter by looking at the final score.

At the end of the points avalanche, San Francisco wound up on top with a 48-46 victory.

The win was huge for the 49ers, who improved to 11-2 and kept pace in a tight battle with the Seahawks for the NFC West crown. The Saints already clinched the NFC South, but the loss dropped them to 10-3 and hurt their chances at securing a first-round bye in the NFC.

That the blockbuster matchup was decided with 94 combined points was surprising, though. New Orleans has been in plenty of high-scoring duels over the last decade or so. In most seasons, the Saints defense has lagged far behind the Drew Brees-led offense. That hasn’t been the case in 2019.

The Saints’ resurgent defense has led the way for the team at times in 2019, and the 49ers entered Sunday with the fewest yards allowed in the NFL. Oddsmakers still set the over/under at 44.5 — a middle-of-the-pack point total — because both teams also happen to top 10 scoring offenses. The 49ers and Saints sailed past that number with just under six minutes left in the second quarter.

Points poured on early

By halftime, there were already 55 points on the scoreboard with the 49ers leading 28-27. Both that point total and the 581 yards of offense in the first half were the most in any game in the last five seasons.

It became just the sixth game since 1940 to have both teams score at least 27 points in the first half. It was just the 11th game with both teams scoring at least 45 points.

Quarterback Drew Brees and Jimmy Garoppolo both started on fire, leading their respective teams to four touchdowns each before they even got to five combined incompletions.

Things slowed down after halftime ... barely. Another 39 points were scored in the second half. When the Saints drove the field to take the lead with just under a minute left, the 49ers offense responded with a game-winning drive anchored by George Kittle running through the Saints defense like the Terminator.

That catch and run — as well as the 15-yard facemask penalty called on the play — set up a 30-yard field goal for the win that Robbie Gould nailed.

The 49ers showed they can win a shootout too

San Francisco’s defense will be fine. It has an elite defensive line across the board and is good at every level. While the Saints exploited some holes and gave the 49ers some things to think about, other NFC contenders shouldn’t expect to find the same success.

It’s also not the end of the world for the Saints, who can still snag a bye if the 10-3 Packers slip up at all down the stretch.

From start to finish, the Week 14 meeting felt like a playoff game with both teams trading blows and proving they belong in the mix for the Super Bowl.

The biggest positive for the 49ers in Week 14 is that it showed this team can do it all. A defense-oriented team fell behind 27-14 in the middle of the second quarter and had no qualms with leaning on Garoppolo and Raheem Mostert to battle back into the game.

When the Saints took the lead in the final minute, Garoppolo was able to soak in the moment and come away a winner. That has to be especially satisfying for the 49ers after losing twice (against the Seahawks and Ravens) on last-second field goals. San Francisco needed to show it could win a big game, and did exactly that. Garoppolo was unfazed by the pressure and finished with 349 yards and four touchdowns.

San Francisco has all the tools to make a postseason run, and its win in an offensive onslaught only makes the team an even scarier contender.