NEW ORLEANS — Even if Colin Kaepernick’s second start was hardly as spectacular as his first, he played well enough to extend coach Jim Harbaugh’s quarterback quandary for at least another week.
With the 49ers’ defense making big plays of its own, it might not have mattered who was under center.
Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner each returned interceptions for touchdowns, a pass rush led by Aldon Smith sacked Drew Brees five times, and San Francisco ended New Orleans’ three-game winning streak, 31-21, on Sunday.
‘‘We always want to be the best defense on the field, especially on the road,’’ Whitner said. ‘‘When you play us, you are going to get hit. That’s our identity: smart, hard-nosed, physical football.’’
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 in uniform. 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.
‘‘We got a win, so that’s all that really matters,’’ Kaepernick said.
Harbaugh implied the decision to start Kaepernick had more to do with preserving Smith’s long-term health than on performance, but he was noncommittal about who might start next week at St. Louis.
‘‘The fact he had symptoms seven to eight days later, I’m not going to put a guy back out there,’’ Harbaugh said of Smith. ‘‘He eventually got cleared. The plan was to rotate him back into the action [in practice], but not all the way to the front line. . . . That would give him a chance to get cleared up completely.’’
Smith did not seem to think he needed to more time, but kept complaints to a minimum.