Reviewing this game one last time is truly painful but I feel it is my duty to close out by grading every game, true to form. I will say the Saints, to me, lost this game on coaching. I think, offensively, the run to pass ratio was absurd. The Saints looked like the Lions a week ago offensively. I realize the 49ers are outstanding in run defense but the Saints never really even tried to attack them. Even down 17-0, the Saints got back in the game and the entire 2nd half was close. 63 passes to 14 rushes is inexcusable in any football game, ever. We'll talk more about the defensive side of the ball when I grade that unit, but leaving Malcolm Jenkins on an island in single coverage against Vernon Davis was also insane. In the end, I blame the coaches for this more than the players. Both Payton and Williams, the masterminds, had very bad days at the office. That doesn't mean the players won't get bad grades, some of them will, but I'd like to underline that they weren't put in a position to succeed. Particularly the safeties in pass defense and the offense line. Below are the player grades for the final time this season. Remember, the GPA's are for the playoffs only (so 2 games combined).
Drew Brees: B (3.33) He was 40 of 63 (!!!) for 462 yards, 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and one carry for 5 yards. He was hit 11 times (!!!) which by far more than he's suffered all season. Sean Payton really set him up to take a beating with the play calling. He was also sacked 3 times. You have to give Brees credit, for throwing 63 times he did the best he could. Still, he was way too risky on a number of throws. The first pick in particular was a bad mistake and it could have been even more costly if the defense didn't get a huge stop at the time. Still, I feel like Brees played well overall. It would have been tough for him to do much better but I would have liked to see him protect the football better.
Pierre Thomas: D (2.67) He had one catch for 5 yards and a carry for 6 yards. Unfortunately, on that reception he fumbled the ball on the 49ers' one yard line and he never saw the game again. I firmly believe if he scores there, the Saints win the game. Brutal grade for a guy who barely played and got hurt badly with a concussion, but that fumble was a gamechanger.
Darren Sproles: B- (3.17) He was atrocious on kick returns. On almost every return he was pinned well inside the 20. He also had a back breaking fumble deep in Saints territory on a punt return. For his special teams work, he deserves an F. On offense, he was huge in the passing game. He was Brees' safety valve and the one option he could always count on. He caught an NFL record 15 passes in the playoffs and those went for 119 yards, including a huge touchdown late. He also had 3 carries for 3 yards. A great as Sproles is the one weakness that we all know by now is he is completely incapable of breaking a tackle. Still, he's been a great addition and a consistently solid performer all season. I'd love to see him relieved of return duties by a better special teamer next year.
Chris Ivory: C- (2.17) He had 9 carries for 23 yards. He never really had a true shot to get going, but what I haven't liked about him is when the line collapses, he doesn't settle for the no gainer and sometimes tries to bounce it outside and loses 3-4 yards instead. In this game it was maximized when that happened because the Saints struggled on 3rd and long. A fairly poor job running the ball.
Jed Collins: C (3.00) He got no push when he was in and did a disappointing job blocking. He didn't really get enough reps to be fully criticized, though. He did contribute a reception for 8 yards and a first down.
Marques Colston: A- (3.50) He had a monstrous 9 catch for 136 yard performance with 1 touchdown performance. On a day where so many Saint players were screwing up, Colston stepped up huge. Still, he had one drop that cost the team 4 points. Right before John Kasay's lone field goal, he dropped a pass in the end zone that he should have had. Anticipating the hit, he gave a little bit of the ol' alligator arms. Too bad. Another play that could have made the difference. On his touchdown he did a fantastic job of keeping his feet in and in general he hurt the 49ers downfield all day long. If this is his last game as a Saint he went out with a bang. I really hope it's not.
Devery Henderson: B- (3.00) He still catches with his body instead of his hands, which isn't ideal, but he contributed with a fairly solid performance. He had 4 catches for 49 yards, most of which helped the Saints get big first downs. He's become a decent possession receiver, but he doesn't get open enough.
Robert Meachem: D (2.33) He finished with 3 catches for 18 yards in what was a pathetic contribution considering the Saints passed 63 times. Despite Lance Moore's absence he didn't make much of increased opportunity. Once again, he gingerly went out of bounds at least twice early to avoid getting hit. I'm sorry, but I have to wonder if this guy is fit for the NFL. He's clearly terrified of contact so I just don't see how he can be playing this sport. His contract is up and it's time to part ways.
Adrian Arrington: D+ (1.67) Surprisingly he got some opportunities and he just didn't take advantage. He had one catch for 14 yards despite being targeted 6 times. He was out-muscled underneath, ran poor routes, didn't secure the ball well and wasn't trusted by Brees. His lone catch was a big third and long conversion, so give him that, but otherwise I think the honyemoon phase needs to end with Arrington. I like the idea of Colston, Henderson and Moore sticking around, but otherwise I think it's time to get a fresh set of receivers on the roster.
Jimmy Graham: A- (3.50) Like Colston, there was a scary drop where he almost flipped the ball to Patrick Willis. He had another tough drop early down the sideline. When the play broke down and times and Brees went out of the pocket I also noticed Graham would give up on his route and not try to give Brees a new target. He's definitely a little lazy at times. Besides that his chips blocking were actually pretty good and he helped the anemic offensive line. He finished with 5 catches for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both touchdowns were amazing, but none was bigger than the final touchdown which would have gone down as one of the biggest plays in team history if the Saints had won. He's only going to get better next year, he just needs to keep his focus and concentration. I think he so ridiculously good he has lapses in focus at times. That'll be the key to him getting to the next level. And yes, I believe there is a next level for this guy.
Michael Higgins: C (1.84) He played a good bit due to Graham being banged up and the Saints only having two tight ends. He had just one catch for 10 yards. His blocking was average at best. It'll be interesting to see if the Saints count on David Thomas coming back healthy next year or if they make an extra effort to grab depth at tight end behind Graham.
Jermon Bushrod: D (2.34) A sad and sorry performance by Bushrod, who was beaten consistently like a drum all game long. At one point, the 49ers rushed 2 and dropped everyone else into coverage, and Justin Smith bull rushed him into Drew Brees and got a knockdown and forced the incompletion. Bushrod was completely manhandled that way often. Despite getting help, he just wasn't up to the task. He struggled mightily with Aldon Smith especially, who was just too fast for him. He was responsible for a great deal of the disruption and was very poor blocking Brees' blindside. A game to forget for the "Pro Bowl" left tackle.
Carl Nicks: C+ (3.17) The best lineman on the day for the Saints, I guess. The Saints never ran, so he didn't get chance to show off his mean streak on the interior. One thing I noticed was the 49ers were able to do what no other team has: get pressure on the edge to force Brees to step up in the pocket, then cause disruption and congestion in the middle to really hurt Brees. Brees just wasn't able to step into a clean pocket.
Brian De La Puente: D (2.17) Like Bushrod he struggled mightily. Particularly with the audibles and 49ers' position shuffle, you could just sense his head was really swimming out there. At times he just looked lost. In the 4th quarter, Brees was taking a lot of time pre-snap directing the line shifts and audibles because it was clear De La Puente was in over his head. Who knows if the he's the long term answer or not. Over the course of the year he was a pleasant surprise, and this will definitely be a valuable experience for him, but we'll have to see if he can last as a long term starter.
Jahri Evans: C- (2.33) Normally pass blocking is his greatest strength, but Justin Smith abused him repeatedly. A disappointing showing for the Saints' superstar guard.
Zach Strief: D+ (1.67) Strief was by far the biggest pleasant surprise this year at right tackle, and he was also the most disappointing offensive lineman in the playoffs. Go figure. The few times the Saints ran they tried to go to his side and he just got no push at all. It didn't help that De La Puente sealed backside pressure on those runs horribly. In pass protection he got beat fairly often despite having lots of help.
Pat McQuistan: C- (2.50) He came in as an extra pass blocker mostly. He did not contribute anything notable and struggled to seal the edge.
My Offensive Player of the Game: Jimmy Graham