Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints’ 23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, which moved the Saints to 8-2 on the season.

What it means: It wasn't always pretty, but it was a huge win for the Saints. They rallied from a six-point deficit in the final minutes to finally get past a team that has caused them fits for three straight years. And it was a confidence-booster for a New Orleans team that is going to have to gut out some more wins like this down the stretch, with physical opponents such as the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers (twice) remaining on the schedule.

The Saints made things a lot harder on themselves with three inexcusable turnovers early. But every unit contributed in the rally, including embattled kicker Garrett Hartley, who nailed two clutch field goals in the final minutes. Quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints' defense were just as clutch.

Stock watch: What a turnaround for Hartley. He had missed four of his past six field goal attempts coming into the game, and the Saints even tried out a group of kickers during the week to update their “emergency list.” But true to Hartley’s history, he was clutch when it mattered most. He was 3-for-3 on the night, including a 42-yarder with 2:06 remaining and a 31-yarder as time expired.

Creative, effective "D": The Saints’ defense certainly did its part in the victory, holding San Francisco to a total of 196 yards and 81 rushing yards, with three sacks and a three-and-out in the final minutes. The Saints knew they had to stop the run -- and this time they did. Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was as creative as ever, starting in a 3-5 formation, among several other quirks.

Up next: For the second year in a row, the Saints have to follow up a physical battle with the 49ers by playing four days later on a Thursday night at Atlanta. The good news this year is the Falcons are having a horrible season (now 2-8 and on a four-game losing streak). Still, the Saints can’t afford to play as sloppy as they did in last year’s Thursday night dud.