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Defense comes up big as Saints edge 49ers

Garrett Hartley, right, and Saints celebrate. (Associated Press)
Garrett Hartley, right, and Saints celebrate. (Associated Press)

Hartley field goal as time expires does in error-prone San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO – Last season, the New Orleans Saints won their games with a high-flying offense. This year, it’s been all about defense.

Garrett Hartley kicked a 37-yard field goal that barely fluttered through as time expired after Drew Brees set it up with a 30-yard completion to Marques Colston and the Saints spoiled the San Francisco 49ers’ home opener with a 25-22 victory Monday night.

San Francisco’s Frank Gore ran for a 7-yard touchdown with 1:19 to play and Vernon Davis made a close-call catch at the goal line for the tying 2-point conversion. The play was initially called no good, but the 49ers (0-2) challenged the ruling and it was overturned.

The defending Super Bowl champion Saints (2-0), who relied on their defense most of the game, got the ball back at the 30 with 1:14 left and the wind at their back. Brees hit Colston with a pass that put the Saints on the 18 with 18 seconds left. The 49ers watched anxiously as Hartley’s kick just made it.

“We’ve stayed with the mindset we are the hunter, not the hunted,” Brees said.

Reggie Bush caught a 6-yard TD pass in his first game since giving back his 2005 Heisman Trophy. But he was helped off the field with a right leg injury with 6:58 left and taken to the locker room on a cart. No information was given on the severity of the injury.

“Everybody is giving us their A game,” Bush said. “Everybody is giving us their best shot. We’re just finding ways to win.”

Brees hit David Thomas for a 3-yard score that put New Orleans ahead late in the third quarter and Tracy Porter’s interception at the 10-yard line preserved the lead until Gore’s late run.

“They played really well,” Brees said of the 49ers. “You’ve got take your hat off to them, they played hard.”

San Francisco outgained the Saints 417-287 but beat itself with turnovers.

Roman Harper intercepted a pass by Alex Smith at the 26 in the first quarter. Malcolm Jenkins recovered Delanie Walker’s fumble at the 3 just before halftime as the Niners failed to capitalize on opportunities.

“We came in with the mindset that we were going to win the turnover battle, and we did that decisively,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Gore provided the highlight for the 49ers, running for 112 yards and catching a 12-yard touchdown pass from Smith.

New Orleans’ defense shined for the second straight game while the Saints offense looked far from top form but still found a way to beat the Niners for the sixth straight time.

Besides the three turnovers, San Francisco snapped a ball over Smith’s head and he batted it out of the end zone for a safety on its opening series.

Brees completed 28 of 38 passes for 254 yards, eight of those completions to Pierre Thomas.

Smith was 23 of 32 for 275 yards with two interceptions.

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