Who helped themselves
K David Akers: Kicking specialists love the opportunity to attempt long-range field goals, and Akers bettered his chances of being given that opportunity when the real games begin by showing everybody he's still got plenty of distance in his left leg, drilling a 59-yarder for San Francisco's only points, the longest make of the five-time Pro Bowler's career.
OLB Aldon Smith: A superlative pro debut for the 49ers' first-round draft pick, who looked game ready from the start. Brought good pressure on passing downs while recording a sack and forced fumble, and also held up against the run while share the team lead with five tackles.
RB Kendall Hunter: It doesn't take much to bring down the diminutive Hunter, but the rookie showed nice quicks, good vision and an ability to follow blockers, find openings and hit them with burst while leading all San Francisco running backs with 29 yards rushing on seven carries.
WR Kyle Williams:Made a good case for more work in the slot while leading team with two receptions for 34 yards, including a 25-yarder during which Williams showed no hesitancy turning up-field. Also had an 11-yard punt return and proclaimed his candidacy to be a factor in the return game.
TE Delanie Walker: Looks quicker and more explosive now after dropping weight in offseason, and showed that he can still use his strength to evade defenders on an 18-yard reception.
OLB Ahmad Brooks: Looked good on both running and passing downs and did well for himself in the three-way competition for two starting berths at OLB with Aldon Smith and Parys Haralson.
SS Donte Whitner: Known for his ability near the line of scrimmage, Whitner suggested he's also pretty good behind it, sticking with New Orleans receivers in coverage and making a perfectly-timed break to extend himself horizontally and knock down a third-down pass to thwart an early Saints drive. The Niners ought to feel more comfortable giving Whitner coverage responsibilities if this is how he responds.
RB Xavier Omon: Bruising 227-pound runner looked good carrying the ball and had an explosive 17-yard inside burst in a performance that could earn him a longer look this summer.
LB Larry Grant: Big inside backer was around the football all evening to share team-high honors with five tackles and also made his presence felt on special team.
DT Demarcus Dobbs: Undrafted rookie had four tackles in mop-up time, including one in the New Orleans backfield and two others after a gain of three yards or fewer.
LB Kenny Rowe: It was nullified by a penalty when the 49ers had 12 men on the field, but the undrafted rookie from Oregon made a spectacular and athletic play when he broke through the line to block a punt and then recovered it himself on the run.
P Andy Lee: Didn't necessarily help himself in the overall scope of things, but Lee deserves a big pat on the back for the way he continually kicked the 49ers out of holes early in the first half and kept San Francisco in the game, averaging 52.8 yards on his first four punts that all came from near or behind his own goal line.
Who hurt themselves
QB Alex Smith: Smith did nothing to distance himself from Colin Kaepernick now that the true competition has begun at quarterback, missing receivers even when he did have time to throw – which wasn't often – and finishing with just 10 yards passing in more than a quarter of action, the lowest total of his career in a preseason game. Smith went 0 for 5 and was sacked twice before completing a pass.
SS C.J. Spillman: Saw extensive action and responded by tying for the team high with five tackles, but he allowed some big plays in pass coverage and conspicuously whiffed at the feet of running back Mark Ingram on his scoring run in the second quarter, diving to make the tackle with his head down.
C Adam Snyder: The veteran likely was going to give way to newcomer Jonathan Goodwin anyway, but that day is coming sooner now after Snyder appeared overmatched in his first start at center, getting pushed back several times - including by former teammate Aubrayo Franklin - and being slow to set up after delivering the snap.
WR Ronald Johnson: The rookie had seven passes thrown his way, five more than anybody else on the team. Johnson didn't catch any of them.
S Colin Jones: Jones was drafted in the sixth round this year specifically for his prowess on special teams, yet he had a shot to bring down Joseph Morgan before his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown got started, and Jones couldn't make the play, allowing Morgan to slip away to begin his long touchdown jaunt that put the Saints in command.
RB Anthony Dixon: Talented back still showing hesitancy and indecision hitting the hole at the line of scrimmage, averaging 2.3 yards rushing on seven carries and not using his size and skills to optimum advantage.
OT Joe Staley: Wasn't exactly the best night protecting the back side of San Francisco quarterbacks for the team's best offensive tackle. Nice job recovering a fumble after Colin Kaepernick had been separated from the football, though.
LB NaVorro Bowman: Undisciplined tendencies cropped up again with his glaring late hit out of bounds on quarterback Chase Daniel, resulting in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that led to New Orleans' first points on the scoreboard.
OT Anthony Davis: Not a good preseason opener for the team's starting right tackle, who didn't look like he's made one iota of progress since coming on at the end of last season.
CB Tramaine Brock: Did not look ready for front-line work on the corner, allowing wideout Robert Meacham to get behind him for what could have been a long early touchdown on a pass that Meacham dropped.
QB Colin Kaepernick: It was a mixed bag for Kaepernick, who might have been on the field more than any other player Friday. He showed nice ability to get away on scrambles and exceptional speed in the open field, and he also had some nice, laser-quick throws. But more often he sprayed the ball around and forced throws that resulted in two interceptions, and he also struggled getting the plays out of the huddle, forcing the team to burn two timeouts. This debut did not instill any confidence he's close to being ready.
OT Alex Boone: First-down facemask penalty put 49ers in a hole and was followed three plays later by a Colin Kaepernick interception that led to New Orleans' final touchdown.