METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Marques Colston usually sits next to Drew Brees on the New Orleans Saints' charter plane, which is ideal for a quarterback who likes using that time to study the game plan or take a nap.
Colston isn't big on small talk. More often, the receiver puts on a pair of earphones and keeps to himself, sometimes dozing off.
Brees describes Colston as an "old soul."
"He's 28 but behaves like he's 58," Brees said, describing the silence between them as comfortable because they understand each other.
That shows in the way they connect on the field.
Colston and Brees have played together for six seasons, and Colston has had more than 1,000 yards receiving in five, coming up short only when he missed five games with a hand injury in 2008.
When 49ers defensive backs reviewed Saints film in advance of this Saturday's meeting in a second-round playoff game in San Francisco, they saw a lot of the 6-foot-4 Colston, who had seven catches for 120 yards in New Orleans' first-round victory over Detroit last weekend.
Niners cornerback Carlos Rogers emphasized that Colston is "real big and tall," and "can make all types of catches."
This season, Colston missed two games with a broken collarbone and finished third on the club in catches with 80, second in yards with 1,143 and tied for second in touchdown catches with eight.
Colston averaged 81.6 yards receiving in his 14 games. Had he maintained that for all 16, he would have posted 1,306 yards, four fewer than tight end Jimmy Graham, who led the Saints and ranked seventh in the NFL.
"He's playing great and he's so dependable. He's always been a playmaker," Brees said. "No matter what the situation, he's a guy you can always count on."
Brees has been counting on Colston increasingly during the latter part of the season. Initially, Graham and versatile running back Darren Sproles were the focus of the offense, particularly during the two early-season games Colston missed.
Colston was supposed to be out four-to-six weeks but returned earlier after having a metal plate inserted in his shoulder to stabilize his collarbone, and sleeping in an oxygen-rich hyperbaric chamber to hasten the healing process.
Colston has the tube-shaped chamber in a hallway in his home, and he still takes naps in it, or lies in there with his tablet computer.
Brees and other teammates marvel at Colston's toughness, not just because of how he plays through injuries but also the way he runs the brutal routes over the middle. He holds onto tough catches while absorbing head-on collisions that slam him flat on his back.
The 6-foot-4 Colston, who has a slender physique, often wears glasses and rarely celebrates his touchdowns. He hardly projects the tough-guy image.
"I don't see myself as a tough guy, but I'm definitely not a guy that's going to be intimidated," Colston said. "For whatever reason, I can focus on the ball and not the hit. I just think that was something I was born with."
Colston takes pride in being the over-the-middle receiving threat, which is something he believed he needed to prove he could do reliably when the Saints drafted him in the seventh round in 2006 out of Hofstra.
"Somebody has got to do it. Coming in here that was the opportunity for me to step in and make the team," Colston said. "I feel like I've turned that opportunity into a pretty good thing."
Colston has played his best during the second half of the season.
He had three 100-yard games, and five of his touchdowns were scored in the last seven games of the regular season. In the playoff victory over Detroit, Colston overcame an early fumble and a dropped pass in the end zone to put up team-high receiving numbers.
Colston said he used to dwell on mistakes, but has learned to move past them quickly.
"You've got too many other people depending on you to bounce back" from a turnover or drop," Colston said. "It's just something you just kind of learn with being a vet. You just hope it doesn't happen to you on the last play of the game."
Colston is entering the last year of his contract. His agent, Joel Segal, said Colston "is completely focused on the playoffs right now" and won't worry about a new deal with the Saints or free agency until after the season.
Brees said that from all the game video he has seen, he would compare Colston closely to Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson in terms of his body type, his range and his ability to make tough catches in traffic.
"Now," Brees added, "he looks as good as I've ever seen him."
Notes: WR Lance Moore (left hamstring), SS Roman Harper (right ankle) and TE John Gilmore (toe) didn't practice, but Harper and Moore said they did individual work and hope to play on Saturday. ... LB Jonathan Vilma (left knee) and LB Jonathan Casillas (right knee) were limited in practice.
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this story from Santa Clara, Calif.