What a difference a Deese makes

The 49ers have been on a roll since Derrick Deese returned to the lineup. It's no coincidence. The veteran left tackle has become a vital element of San Francisco's offensive success with the way he protects the blind side of quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Tim Rattay. Nobody in the NFL these days is doing it better.

For a pass protector, Deese is in the midst of one of the league's most impressive streaks. The 12th-year veteran has not allowed a sack in 27 consecutive starts, a streak Deese takes into Sunday's pivotal NFC game at Green Bay where the 5-5 Niners will be battling the 5-5 Packers for playoff survival.

Last season, Deese set a general goal to not allow a quarterback sack the entire season. After accomplishing that feat, Deese now says preventing sacks is a specific goal he takes into every week.

Deese hasn't been beaten for a sack since a victory at Indianapolis in November of 2001.

"Last year my goal was not to give up any sacks, and I really didn't know how far before that I had played without giving up a sack," Deese said. "Now I kind of have that goal every week. It's always a goal, but to have attained it last year, I want to keep it going as far as it can go."

The streak has been tested this season more by a high ankle sprain than opposing defensive linemen. The injury has forced Deese to miss five games and most of a sixth.

"But now I'm back to playing the way I can play, and I'm playing well," Deese said.

The same can be said for the 49ers. Since Deese returned to the lineup Nov. 2, San Francisco's inconsistent offense has produced two of its finest performances of the year.

With Deese stabilizing the offensive line, the 49ers rolled over St. Louis 30-10 and whipped Pittsburgh 30-14 to give the Niners back-to-back victories for the first time this season.

Rattay, playing in place of injured starter Garcia, was sacked just once in those two games. Rattay said the protection was so good last Monday night against Pittsburgh that he hardly even felt like he'd played in a game.

The Rams and Steelers each ranked among the NFL's top five in sacks before facing the 49ers. Rattay is quick to recognize the quality Deese brings to protecting his blind side.

"It's unbelievable," Rattay said. "It just shows that he's a professional and he's been doing this a long time. He missed a lot of games with that ankle, but came back and was right at the level that he has always been at. He came back and has done what he's always done."

It has made a big difference for the Niners, who are 4-0 in games this season that Deese has started and finished.

Deese missed three games after injuring his ankle Sept. 7 during San Francisco's season-opening rout of Chicago. He started the next two games, but re-injured the ankle on the second series of a 20-19 loss at Seattle on Oct. 12. Deese did not return that night and missed San Francisco's next two games.

"Having Derrick back in there has meant a great deal as far as pass protection, leadership and a number of things," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "He knows what's going on. The years that he has played, he is smart. He is a great athlete who's not real big out there, but he can pass protect. He has made a big difference."

The difference hasn't just come at left tackle, where rookie Kwame Harris occasionally struggled in protection in Deese's place. The 49ers have allowed 17 sacks this season, but just four when Deese was on the field.

As they enter the November home stretch, having Deese on the field could be the difference that pushes the Niners over the thin line that has prevented them from consistent success this season.

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