SAN FRANCISCO — Jeff Kemp knows he's not going to make them forget Joe Montana, but he has eased Coach Bill Walsh's fears.
Kemp, playing his second game since Montana went out for the season with a back injury, completed 29 of 44 passes for 332 yards Sunday to lead the San Francisco 49ers to a 26-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
"Jeff Kemp played better than we could ever have hoped," said Walsh, who was concerned about his young quarterback's ability to read the Saints' defense and change a play at the line of scrimmage.
"Most often he did the right thing (when he called an audible). He made the big ones when he had to, especially on third down."
The 49ers (2-1) converted on 10 of 17 third-down plays.
Kemp, who called "6 or 7 audibles," said he felt more confident with the offense than he did last week in his first start in a losing effort against the Rams.
"I felt pretty good out there last week," he said. "There really wasn't a dramatic difference this week. But now I'm thinking just about our offense all the time. I know what the options are and can read the defenses better."
The 49ers scored on Kemp's 4-yard pass to Dwight Clark, a 5-yard run by Derrick Harmon and field goals of 30, 40, 28 and 32 yards by Ray Wersching.
The 49ers gave up 186 yards in kickoff return yards to the Saints' Mel Gray. Gray broke a 101-yard return for a touchdown to start the second half, giving New Orleans a 17-13 lead.
Gray also had a 63-yard kickoff return to set up a field goal as the Saints (1-2) gained 233 yards in 6 kickoff returns.
Saints' Coach Jim Mora said Gray's touchdown gave his team a big lift, and blamed the defense for the defeat.
"It was a big boost for us," he said. "There was great execution by the whole kickoff squad, but we couldn't stop them."
The Saints also scored on a 28-yard pass from rookie halfback Dalton Hilliard to Eugene Goodlow and Morten Andersen's 44-yard field goal.
New Orleans lost quarterback Bobby Hebert on its first possession when he was sacked by Charles Haley and suffered a broken bone in his right foot. Hebert's fumble on the play was recovered by San Francisco's Carlton Williamson at the Saints' 13, but the 49ers had to settle for a field goal.