MAKING THE GRADE

NEW ORLEANS -- Here is how the 49ers (8-2-1) graded in their 31-21 win Sunday over the host New Orleans Saints (5-6):

PASS OFFENSE

Colin Kaepernick delivered some sensational throws in his second straight start, completing four passes of at least 25 yards. Mario Manningham, Delanie Walker, Bruce Miller, Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore each had critical catches. A few drops again and receivers need to brace better for Kaepernick's bullets. A first-career interception wasn't costly, and Randy Moss prevented one in the end zone. Grade: B+

RUN OFFENSE

Gore came on strong in the second half when the 49ers needed to "get dirty," as he put it. Losing Kendall Hunter to a third-quarter ankle injury could hurt the league's No. 1 rushing attack. Hunter had a 21-yard run to set up the 49ers' go-ahead touchdown. Brandon Jacobs finally saw action, albeit a 1-yard run on second-and-18. Grade: B

PASS DEFENSE

Ahmad Brooks changed the 49ers' fortunes with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown, and Donte Whitner's 42-yard version further crippled the Saints. Brooks, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis combined on the five sacks after halftime to thwart a Drew Brees comeback. Tarell Brown made a heck of a fourth-down pass defense. Grade: A

RUN DEFENSE

The Saints managed only 2.8 yards per carry and none of their 21 runs went longer than seven yards. The 49ers allowed 59 yards, their fourth-fewest total this season. That moved them up to No. 4 among the league's stingiest run defenses. Grade: A

SPECIAL TEAMS

Ginn's muffed punt at the 49ers' 12 may have been only his first lost fumble but it promptly set up a Saints go-ahead touchdown. With Kyle Williams out indefinitely with a knee injury and Ginn coping with a wrist issue, LaMichael James finally could get summoned. David Akers' up-and-down season summed up with these field-goal attempts: good from 27, wide from 50, blocked from 33. Grade: C-

COACHING

Jim Harbaugh is reaping all sorts of praise for switching quarterbacks in the midst of a winning season. But only after he was roundly questioned (and criticized) on all the Sunday morning pre-game shows. Vic Fangio's defensive scheme worked wonders against a high-scoring offense and silenced the Superdome. Grade: A