NEW ORLEANS - It wasn't so much that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a "hot hand" as it was that normally red-hot Drew Brees had a very cold one, courtesy of one very mean defense.
Getting his second consecutive start in place of Alex Smith, who stood on the sidelines holding a football, Kaepernick passed for one score and ran for another, and the 49ers' suffocating defense intercepted Brees twice and returned them both for touchdowns to beat the New Orleans Saints 31-21 Sunday at the Superdome.
Kaepernick, who completed 16 of 25 passes for 231 yards, scored on a seven-yard run and threw a six-yard swing pass to Frank Gore for a touchdown, but the real story was the 49ers' nasty defense.
Trailing 14-7, the 49ers broke open the game with three touchdowns in a 3:52 span of the second and third quarters to take a 28-14 lead.
Two of the scores came on interception returns for scores - 50 yards by linebacker Ahmad Brooks 22 seconds before halftime and 42 yards on a tipped ball picked off by safety Donte Whitner with 11:30 left in the third quarter.
The two Pick Sixes sandwiched Kaepernick's scoring toss to Gore on the first series of the second half, capping a six-play, 80-yard drive, and gave the 49ers a 28-14 lead.
Brees, who was sacked five times and took a beating in the second half, brought the Saints within 28-21 with an 80-yard, eight-play drive that culminated with a two-yard pass to fullback Jed Collins. But Kaepernick was impressive on a key 16-play, 85-yard drive that led to David Akers' 27-yard field goal. The 49ers (8-2-1) not only took a 31-21 lead, but Kaepernick ate up 9:28 of the clock.
Brees normally is deadly in four-minute and two-minute situations, but he came up with one of the worst throws of his career to allow the 49ers to tie the score, 14-14, just before halftime.
Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson had just picked off Kaepernick at the Saints' 44 with 38 seconds left, and Brees wanted more. On second down, Brees thought he had tight end Jimmy Graham free over the middle, but Brooks broke on the ball to intercept it in stride at midfield and raced 50 yards untouched for the tying touchdown.
Kaepernick had put the 49ers on top 7-0 on the 49ers' second series. He found Mario Manningham open on a short crossing route, and Manningham outran cornerback Jabari Greer for a 40-yard gain to the New Orleans 20. Kaepernick got the touchdown on a beautiful fake to running back Kendall Hunter and a bootleg around left end from seven yards out.
After two consecutive three-and-out series, Brees got the Saints on the board with a 10-play, 79-yard drive, culminating in a six-yard pass to backup tight end David Thomas. Brees was 5-of-5 for 66 yards on the drive.
The Saints took a 14-7 lead with 7:53 left in the second quarter after Ted Ginn Jr. muffed a punt and Saints' special teamer Rafael Bush pounced on the ball at the 49er 11. Two plays later, Brees found Marques Colston in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown, the 56th career TD for Colston, which broke Deuce McAllister's franchise record.
Notes: Brees extended his NFL record of throwing a touchdown pass to 54 consecutive regular-season games... The Saints had won four consecutive games but dropped to 5-6 after an 0-4 start... Kaepernick picked up three crucial third downs on the decisive 16-play, 85-yard drive that led to the 31-21 lead.