Upon Further Review: Saints Week 11

A review of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome:

Defense dominant: One of the NFL's most remarkable makeovers continued in a big way Sunday as the Saints' defense held San Francisco to a total of 196 yards. Stunningly, the Saints' defense now ranks fourth in the league in yards allowed (305.4 per game) after setting the NFL record for yards allowed last year (440.1).

They were as good as ever against a 49ers team that features one of the league's best offensive lines and run games. The Saints were physical -- holding San Francisco to 81 rushing yards and forcing three sacks. And they were deceptive, mixing creative formations like a 3-5 front with only three defensive backs, among others that were implemented for the first time this week.

“The defense has been playing unbelievable. Each week we gain more and more respect for them,” Saints fullback Jed Collins said. “They just keep proving they're not only here to benefit the offense, but they're here to win games.”

Offense patient: This certainly wasn’t the most eye-popping performance we’ve seen from the Saints' offense. But they were very good, aside from an ill-advised interception by quarterback Drew Brees in the third quarter. And the offensive line was outstanding against one of the league’s most physical defenses. The best thing the Saints did was stick with their patient game plan even when they were trailing by six points in the fourth quarter.

Brees completed 10 of 14 passes for 144 yards during the Saints' three fourth-quarter field goal drives. And the Saints ran the ball nine times for 34 yards on those drives.

Hartley resilient: On a day when the Saints overcame adversity to deliver in the clutch, it was fitting that kicker Garrett Hartley finished things off with field goals of 21, 42 and 31 yards. Hartley had missed four of six field goals coming into the game, but the Saints' faith in him paid off big-time.

Going forward? I expect Hartley to make about 80 percent of his kicks, like he has throughout his career. But I don't expect the big moments to faze him.

49ers off their back: Players were split over how much it meant to beat the 49ers for the first time in three years -- or at least how much they wanted to admit it publicly. But several players did acknowledge that it was an important hump for them to finally get past.

“When you lose to a team a couple of times, especially when you lose to a team people continually tell you: ‘You can't play with a team like that, you can't play with a physical team, you can't play with a running team' ... I think it's human nature to say, ‘Eh, I don't know if I like being told I can't do something,'” Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “There was definitely a little bit of a chip today.”