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Powerhouse Saints are coming to town for MNF

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The San Francisco 49ers certainly didn’t expect to be winless and already down in the division race at this early stage.

Especially not with the Super Bowl champions coming to town Monday night.

An embarrassing 31-6 defeat at Seattle in which little went right altered things for a team that had such high hopes of dominating the NFC West and quickly establishing itself as a playoff contender. The franchise’s seven-year postseason drought is felt by everybody involved in this organization.

The thing is, San Francisco now must beat the well-rested New Orleans Saints (1-0) in prime time to avoid dropping into a bigger hole at 0-2. The Saints, who have won the last five meetings with the Niners, are trying to begin 2-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history. If the 49ers play like they did against the Seahawks, it would seem very doable.

“You can be great in the preseason, but until you play that first game there are some things that maybe during preseason you think, ‘That’s going to be OK,”‘ San Francisco coach Mike Singletary said. “And you play the first game and you realize, it is definitely not going to be OK, we have got to fix it. And plus, that first game is on the road. Like I said, I think it will serve its purpose very well.”

Singletary called a team meeting late Sunday as soon as the Niners returned to their facility from Seattle. He cleared the air and wanted to make sure his players were on the same page heading into this important week of preparation.

“I think the team is frustrated,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “But you have that 24-hour window, 48-hour window where we’re going to learn from it. You’re going to watch the film, you’re going to meet, it’s not going to taste good, it’s not going to feel good, but that’s part of the deal. We’ve got to get better. It’s a long season. There’s 15 games ahead of us, and right now, the focus is to learn from this and then get ready for New Orleans.”

Coach Sean Payton and the Saints have had extra time to study up for this one. They opened the season as the NFL’s first game Sept. 9, beating Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings 14-9 in a rematch of last year’s NFC title game – a defensive game also played in prime time.

“We don’t want it to be something that creates any rust,” Payton said. “I think they’ll handle it well and certainly with the injured players, the few guys that we have that are battling some injuries, hopefully we can use that time. It’s just one of the challenges.”

While the Saints also had their challenges in Game 1, they found a way. New Orleans’ offense took the last possession with a little more than five minutes left and kept it until the game ended.

“I feel like we’ve learned how to win in a lot of different ways,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “And I think we continue to, not surprise ourselves, but continue just to win in ways that maybe we haven’t won in the past.”

Against Minnesota, Brees completed 27 of 36 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown. He connected with nine different players, too.

New Orleans scored its fewest points in a win since Payton took over as coach in 2006. It was the Saints’ stingy defense that had a big hand in the victory, holding Favre and Co. to only two first downs and no points in the second half. The Vikings were to 5 for 13 in third-down situations overall.

That could present problems for Smith and the Niners offense, which couldn’t score in the final two quarters against the Seahawks despite a solid start to the game. San Francisco didn’t have a touchdown, either.

Singletary is sticking by Smith – for now. For months the 49ers brass have insisted Smith is their guy and would be the starter, even after the organization signed backup and fellow former No. 1 overall pick David Carr in March.