Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears — who were 7-2 coming into the game — was supposed to be a measuring stick for a 49ers team that has been inconsistent at times this season.
They passed that test with flying colors, rolling on offense and defense on their way to a 32-7 victory that was never in doubt. Up next: a surging New Orleans Saints team that gave San Francisco all they could handle in the playoffs a season ago.
While the 49ers were focused on upgrading their wide receivers during the offseason, the Saints have found themselves in the midst of trouble ever since the Niners bounced them out of the playoffs with a 36-32 victory at Candlestick Park.
Following the game, tapes were released on which Saints coaches could be heard offering bounties for big hits on specific San Francisco players. Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for the year by the NFL following the revelations.
The team responded by losing its first four games this season, despite bringing back most of its key players from a 2011 season in which they finished with a 13-3 record.
That skid did not last, however, and New Orleans (5-5) has now won five of its past six games entering today’s NFC showdown, including a 38-13 drubbing of the Raiders last week.
Linebacker Aldon Smith said after Monday’s game that the 49ers defense made the statement that they are the best in the league. That statement will be tough to back up against a Saints offense that ranks fourth in the league in points per game (28.7) and fifth in total offense (391.3 yards per game).
“We play well together,” linebacker Ahmad Brooks said of the defense. “We feed off each other’s energy, we feed off what other guys do on the field.”
Perhaps most interesting will be whether the Vernon Davis’s big night against the Bears is a sign if he is ready to get involved in the passing game again. The tight end had just nine catches over a four-game stretch before leading the team with 83 receiving yards against Chicago and finding the end zone for the first time since Week 3 against the Minnesota Vikings.
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Davis’ big night was not necessarily a product of having Colin Kaepernick in at quarterback in place of starter Alex Smith, who missed the game with a concussion.
“I think Colin did a great job getting Vernon the ball,” Harbaugh said. “And Vernon did a great job getting open. I don’t think those are mutually exclusive or inclusive.”
Davis and the Niners’ other receiving options should have plenty of chances against a Saints defense that has allowed a league-worst 462.8 yards per game.