NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Ahmad Brooks, Donte Whitner and the rest of the San Francisco defense made enough plays for the 49ers to win no matter who they started at quarterback.
Brooks and Whitner returned interceptions for touchdowns, the 49ers sacked Drew Brees five times, and San Francisco ended the New Orleans Saints' three-game winning streak, 31-21 on Sunday.
Colin Kaepernick was solid in his second career start while Alex Smith, deemed healthy enough to suit up after recovering from a concussion, watched from the sideline. Kaepernick passed for 231 yards, including a short touchdown to Frank Gore. He also ran for a 7-yard score. He threw his first career interception, but it was inconsequential.
Brees finished with 267 yards and three TDs. After rushing for 140 yards or more in each of its previous three games, New Orleans (5-6) managed only 59 yards against San Francisco (8-2-1).
One of Brees' scoring passes went to Marques Colston, who set a Saints record with his 56th career touchdown with the club.
The Niners gained 144 yards on the ground, led by Gore with 83. The Saints shut down tight end Vernon Davis, the player they feared perhaps the most, but the Niners' other tight end, Delanie Walker, had three catches for 81 yards, including one for 45 yards to set up a touchdown.
San Francisco's interceptions turned a 14-7 deficit into a 28-14 lead.
Brooks snagged the first, returning it 50 yards late in the first half. The second came on Brees' first pass of the second half. The ball deflected off Colston's hands as the leaping receiver was upended and briefly shaken up. Whitner snagged the deflected pass and returned it 42 yards to make it 28-14
Since losing to the New York Giants on Oct. 14, the Niners are 5-0-1 and now hold a 2 1/2-game lead in the NFC West with five games to go.
It seems their biggest problem at this point is deciding who should be their No. 1 QB. Smith, who led the Niners to the NFC title game last season, started the first nine games this season before his injury.