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That clever Chip Kelly saved four points in an 18-point loss

New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers

SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 06: Head coach Chip Kelly of the San Francisco 49ers shakes hands with head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints before the game at Levi’s Stadium on November 6, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

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The 49ers made one of the smartest defensive plays of the season yesterday.

Of course, if they were a little less clever, they might not have lost by 18.

Via Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com, the 49ers did a very aware and heady thing yesterday, which might have saved them some points.

In short, the 49ers committed premeditated penalties (plural) to burn time and cost the Saints a shot at the end zone just before halftime.

With eight seconds left, three 49ers defenders just grabbed Saints receivers and hugged them as soon as they stepped away from the line. Safety Eric Reid took it a step beyond, tackling Saints tight end Coby Fleener. In case you don’t have your rulebook handy, that’s illegal.

But it was of little harm, because it burned four seconds, and moved the ball from the 49ers’ 13-yard line to the 8-yard line. The Saints settled for a field goal just before the half, and ended up winning 41-23. But it was smart because it kept them from having a chance at a touchdown.

“We practice all sorts of scenarios at the end of the first half and the end of the game,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said. “So we got flagged for a penalty there, which is a 5-yard penalty and then they kicked a field goal. They were [already] in field-goal range.

Kelly said the 49ers had worked on such situations in practice, saying: “There’s a lot of things that we practice in practice that cross our minds.”

Now if he could only come up with a brilliant plan which would prevent his defense from playing two extra games’ worth of snaps in half a season, he might be onto something.

And it’s also the kind of blatant display which could catch the attention of the league’s competition committee, and prevent such chess moves by blatantly overmatched teams in the future.