Inside the 49ers

The 49ers have finally tasted success. Now, where do they go from here?

The immediate answer: New York, to face the unbeaten Jets on Sunday at the Meadowlands.

The 49ers opened the season with two narrow, heart-breaking losses to Atlanta and New Orleans. Those defeats were followed by two games against Seattle and St. Louis in which they were beaten decisively.

The 49ers managed to rally from a 16-point mid-fourth-quarter deficit to post a 31-28 overtime victory against Arizona, giving the team a little hope for the final 11 games of the season.

It could have been an altogether disastrous day for the 49ers, who earlier in the game lost All-Pro linebacker Julian Peterson with a torn left Achilles tendon.

"I don't know," answered 49ers right tackle Scott Gragg when asked if the team could have withstood another crushing loss. "This team is banged up and struggling. This certainly was a confidence-booster. I'm glad I don't have to consider that."

The 49ers (1-4) played hard last week, and some of that probably had to be attributed to Peterson's actions. After sustaining his season-ending injury, Peterson returned to the sideline and energetically encouraged his teammates.

Now, reality sets in.

The 49ers will be without their defensive leader for the rest of the season, and there is no telling when their biggest offensive leader, center Jeremy Newberry, will return from Sept. 28 surgery to stabilize his right kneecap.

They started last week's game without four defensive starters, losing a fifth (Peterson) in the first half. The 49ers figure to be without leading tackler Derek Smith, a middle linebacker, and defensive end Andre Carter for at least two more games. Cornerback Mike Rumph is likely out for the season with a broken right forearm, and defensive end John Engelberger saw emergency action against Arizona, playing despite a painful abdominal strain.

"We were in a hole," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "You are sitting there at 0-4. I can't say enough about the resolve of this football team to come back and make plays like they did."

Quarterback Tim Rattay is coming off his best NFL performance, completing a team-record 38 passes and throwing for 417 yards. His efforts enabled him to win his first NFC offensive-player-of-the-week award.

"For Tim to do what he did and throw for that many yards is not easy," Erickson said. "I don't care who you are playing."

But the job certainly does not get any easier this week, as the 49ers could be without tight end Eric Johnson, who leads the NFL in receptions with 41. Johnson had a career game against the Cardinals, catching 13 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. He likely played the game with a cracked rib, though Erickson did not rule out the possibility the injury was sustained against Arizona.

Johnson sustained an injury to his right rib cage the previous week against the Rams. He missed all of practice last week -- just as he is not expected to practice this week -- and received a painkilling injection before the Cardinals game. He did not start but entered the game early and, obviously, was able to get into the flow of the game.

Johnson said there are merits to sitting out of action this week, giving his ribs essentially three weeks of rest before the 49ers' next game on Oct. 31 against the Chicago Bears. The 49ers have their bye week Oct. 24.

But Erickson believes Johnson will be able to play Sunday because he was in a lot less pain Wednesday than a week ago.

"When it's a day-to-day situation, I would be surprised if he didn't play," Erickson said. "He didn't practice last week, and I kind of liked how he played."

SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. The 49ers lead 8-1, including victories in the last five meetings since 1986. The last New York victory over the 49ers came in 1983, when the Jets defeated the 49ers 27-13 at Candlestick Park. The last meeting between the teams occurred in the third week of the 2001 season when the 49ers posted a 19-17 victory on "Monday Night Football" at the Meadowlands.

NOTES AND QUOTES

--- The last time Dennis Erickson took a team to face the New York Jets in the Meadowlands it was probably the lowlight of his coaching career. The Seahawks were battling for a spot in the 1998 AFC playoffs and needed a victory over the Jets to improve to 7-6.

They thought they had the victory when Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde was stopped short of the goal line on a fourth-and-goal run from the 5-yard line with 20 seconds remaining. However, Testaverde was ruled to have crossed the goal line, handing the Jets a 32-31 victory.

The Seahawks fell to 6-7, did not make the playoffs, and Erickson was fired at the end of the season.

"I don't know if you want to call it a memory," Erickson said. "It's a nightmare to me. That's probably the biggest reason, or one of the biggest reasons, that instant replay came in the next year. It's a distant memory, but a very close nightmare."

--- LB Julian Peterson, who blamed Cardinals right tackle L.J. Shelton on Sunday for what he thought was a cheap shot, offered an apology after watching film of the play on which he sustained his season-ending torn left Achilles tendon.

"I thought he did leg whip me, but he didn't," Peterson said. "It was the way I landed. It was one of those freak accidents. He didn't even touch it. It felt like he did. It was just the way I landed down on the heel."

If the team does not sign him to a long-term contract, the only way it can retain him is if it pays him at least $7.29 million next season, which is 120 percent of his salary this season. If the average of the top five salaries for linebackers is higher than that figure, that's the price it would take for the 49ers to make him their franchise player again.

In any case, that is a lot of money to pay a player coming off such a serious injury. But Peterson said he does not regret his decision to decline the 49ers' six-year, $38 million contract offer, which included a $15.5 million signing bonus.

"If I could turn back the hands of time, I'd do the same thing," he said of declining the 49ers' offer.

--- The 49ers had success against the Cardinals with their no-huddle offense, which they call "red ball." But Erickson said he does not want to go with the no-huddle attack all the time because it limits his substitutions.

"We just don't want to be in one personnel group," Erickson said. "We've got (fullback) Fred Beasley sitting there. We want to go two tight ends and two wideouts. We've got a number of formations that we want to get involved in. So far, in our red ball, it's been three wideouts. We'd go red ball, then we went to two running backs and huddled up."

The 49ers do not necessarily use their no-huddle offense as a hurry-up technique.

"Really, we are using most of the clock," Erickson said. "We're letting everyone get back and then you are looking at the defense and making a call. I believe what it does is it picks up the tempo when things aren't going well."

--- Through the first four games of the season, the 49ers had not received any rushing yards from a quarterback. They hadn't even had a rushing attempt from quarterbacks Tim Rattay or Ken Dorsey.

Before this season, the 49ers had only seven games since 1988 in which their quarterback did not attempt a run -- and one of those games was last season with Rattay. Entering last week's game, Rattay had eight career rushing attempts and zero yards.

But Rattay finally accounted for some rushing yards at an opportune moment, scrambling for 15 yards during the 49ers' game-tying drive late in regulation. Earlier, Rattay scored a two-point conversion on a run.

"He showed a lot of Michael Vick in him," Erickson quipped.

Having a quarterback who can pick up a first down rushing when things break down has been a staple of the 49ers' offense through the years with Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jeff Garcia. In 167 games, Montana averaged 2.5 carries for 9.6 yards a game; in 150 games, Young gained an average of 23.9 yards on 4.1 carries; and in 74 games, Garcia averaged 21.1 yards on 4.3 rushes.

--- Former 49ers receiver Terrell Owens, who left the organization in a trade with Philadelphia over a bitter dispute that centered around his agent's alleged failure to meet a deadline to declare free agency, made a surprise appearance last week at the team's facility.

Owens visited the Bay Area to see his son during the Eagles' bye week. Owens spent some time with former teammates Jimmy Williams, Jamie Winborn, Cedrick Wilson, Julian Peterson and Kevan Barlow.

Erickson said he wishes he would have seen Owens during his brief stop.

"He's welcomed here, as far as I'm concerned," Erickson said. "I don't have a problem with T.O. He has a lot of friends here. I didn't see him. I wish I could have had a chance to say hi."

--- Backup running back Jamal Robertson has shown some promise in the first five games of the season, entering the game at times in place of Kevan Barlow. Robertson has carried 16 times for 71 yards but has also committed two costly fumbles.

His fumble as the 49ers were potentially driving for a clinching touchdown against New Orleans was one of the most damaging plays in that loss. He also had a big fumble late in the third quarter against the Cardinals that helped contribute to the 49ers' 16-point fourth-quarter deficit.

"He better understand that he has got to keep hold of that football," Erickson said. "That has happened twice in critical situations. But, again, he'll play. He'll come in and play for Kevan some."

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Number of receptions by which tight end Eric Johnson has surpassed his single-season high. Johnson, who has 41 receptions through five games, had a career-high 40 receptions in 16 games in 2001.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Who knows what will happen now that we are throwing it pretty well? They may play two (safeties) deep or they may do something else to take away the passing game outside. So now it gives you a little bit better opportunity to run it. Maybe we're throwing it to set up the run, opposed to the other way around." -- Erickson on his team's success passing and surprising lack of production running.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The 49ers are stuck trying to replace the best player on the team. Linebacker Julian Peterson was placed on injured reserve with a torn left Achilles' tendon. Brandon Moore will replace Peterson in the starting lineup, and third-year player Saleem Rasheed will find his way into the mix in certain situations.

Coach Dennis Erickson said Jeff Ulbrich, who is playing middle linebacker while Derek Smith is sidelined with torn ankle ligaments, can move to the outside and rookie Richard Seigler can take over in middle. Jamie Winborn will play the weak-side linebacker spot, the position Ulbrich typically plays when everybody is healthy.

Moore might also see some time at defensive end in on pass-rush downs with all the injuries the team has experienced. Brandon Whiting, Otis Leverette and John Engelberger are all on the injury report. Andre Carter is out for at least another couple of games.

The 48ers placed Peterson and Jasen Isom on injured reserve this week, filling their roster spots with tackle Jerome Davis and linebacker Ray Wells. Davis served a four-game suspension this season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

The 49ers also added tight end Gabe Crecion to the practice squad, creating room for him with the release of tackle Tim Provost.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--- DE Brandon Whiting is likely to start his fourth game in a row on the 49ers' banged-up defensive line. Whiting sustained a bone bruise on his lower ankle on Sunday and expects to be available for action against the Jets.

--- OL Kyle Kosier will likely start his fourth straight game at left tackle in place of Kwame Harris, who is not quite 100 percent after sustaining high left ankle and knee sprains on Sept. 19. "Kwame's not totally healthy by any means," 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. "He's getting better, though."

--- LT Kwame Harris saw action in a couple of series last week against the Cardinals. The 49ers are trying to work him back into the starting lineup slowly. He is not quite 100 percent after sustaining sprains to his left knee and left ankle on Sept. 19. The team expects him to return to his spot in the starting lineup after the Oct. 24 bye week.

--- CB Ahmed Plummer has not gotten off to a good start this season after signing a contract extension that included an $11 million signing bonus. Plummer got beaten for Larry Fitzgerald's first NFL touchdown, and Emmitt Smith straight-armed him to the ground to score on a 10-yard run.


Niners Digest Top Stories