Hurting Hicks taking over at tailback

Maurice Hicks didn't practice Tuesday with the 49ers, but coach Dennis Erickson repeated his stance that Hicks - after his impressive starting debut in last week's 31-28 overtime victory at Arizona - would replace Kevan Barlow as the team's starting tailback Saturday against the Washington Redskins, as long as he is healthy enough to play.

"We expect him to practice some tomorrow," Erickson said. "We just have to wait and see. He's beat up pretty damn good. (But) if he's healthy, as I said before, he deserves the right to start, is what it's all about to me."

When asked why Hicks deserves to start ahead of Barlow - who signed a $20 million contract in the offseason to be the team's featured back, but has been a disappointment this year in that role - Erickson said, "Just how he played. He had an opportunity, he took advantage of it. Kevan missed last week because of the concussion. They are both going to play. It's just my opinion and that's the one that counts."

Hicks took advantage of his first starting assignment, rushed for 139 yards and one touchdown on 34 carries. It's the most yards gained by a San Francisco back in a game this season, and Hicks also tied a team record with 39 touches (carries and receptions) in the game.

"We knew we had to start the running game to have a chance to win the game," Hicks said. "This is like a breath of fresh air. It's like a whole lot is lifted off my shoulders right now to just get this far."

Hicks continued to play after sustaining torn cartilage in his ribs in the fourth quarter. He rushed for 42 yards in overtime to key the victory.

"It was just a bruise," Hicks said. "I felt like I could still run as long as no one would land on me. I felt like my team needed me. I couldn't see myself coming out because I knew they needed me at that tough time."

It's possible Hicks could play with a pain-blocking injection against the Redskins.

"They kind of talked about that yesterday," Erickson said. "They don't know for sure. It's kind of a question mark."

The injury is painful, but Hicks says he is going through normal rehab - electrical stimulation, icing and the such - while the rest of his body feels fine.

When asked how badly he would have to feel not to play this week, Hicks said, "I don't know right now. I'm going to go out there tomorrow and see how it feels and take it from there."

After Tuesday's practice, Hicks apparently still hadn't been told yet that he had been given the starting nod ahead of Barlow.

"I don't know anything," Hicks said. "I haven't read anything. I'm just looking forward to playing this game and trying to help my team get a win. … If the coach told you that, then I guess, that's what it is. I mean, you know, I'm the type of guy who's ready to go out there and play. When I get the opportunity, I'm just going to take advantage of it. I just know, when I go back out there, if I'm the starter or not, I've just got to go out there and make plays and put my team in the best situation to win."

But shouldn't he be the starter? After all, since joining the team from the practice squad on Nov. 3 - and then appearing at running back for the first time 11 days later - Hicks has rushed for 283 yards on 65 carries for an average of 4.4 yards a pop.

Barlow, meanwhile, is average 3.2 yards a carry. Before getting the start last week in Barlow's absence, Hicks actually had out-gained Barlow in two of the previous three weeks even though Barlow started each of those games. Hicks also almost out-gained Barlow in his NFL debut at running back against Carolina on November 14, finishing with eight carries for 46 yards. Barlow had 21 carries for 47 yards in that game. In the Arizona game alone, Hicks gained 41 more yards in one afternoon than Barlow had gained the previous three weeks combined.

"I'm just taking it one day at a time," Hicks said. "If I start or don't start, I'm going to be the same person, and I'm going to play hard and if I get in there I'm going to make plays. That's what I'm about."

Erickson said starting Hicks this week doesn't mean he has permanently moved ahead of Barlow on the team's depth chart.

"I said Maurice would start," Erickson said. "He would start this week and we'll just see how it goes."

NOTES AND QUOTES

--- Quarterback Ken Dorsey, starting in place of Tim Rattay, was able to capitalize on the team's ability to run the ball, too. Rattay missed the game with a partial tear of his right plantar fascia. Dorsey completed 18 of 34 passes for 191 yards with three touchdowns, and was sacked only once.

"The running game helped out the passing game tremendously," receiver Cedrick Wilson said. "(Strong safety) Adrian Wilson had to be in the box all day, so he wasn't able to get up under our curls and comebacks and dig routes. He had to worry about the run."

--- Erickson decided to go for it on a fourth-and-1 from the Cardinals' 34-yard line in the first quarter. Dorsey gained the first down on a sneak up the middle, and the 49ers went on to score a touchdown for a 14-0 lead. Last week, the 49ers punted from the St. Louis 38 on a fourth-and-1. When asked why he went for it this week, Erickson answered, "Why? Because I'm a lot smarter now than I was last week. It was only an inch or so. If it was a yard, we probably would have punted."

--- TE Eric Johnson had two catches for 8 yards but still managed to break the team's single-season receptions record for a tight end with 69 catches. Brent Jones previously held the record with 68 receptions in 1993.

--- Wilson had the first two-touchdown game of his career, making scoring catches of 19 and 27 yards. He also came through with a big 19-yard reception on a third-and-17 that set up the winning field goal in overtime. "Ken fired it in there between three or four defenders," Wilson said. "He threw the football well."

Dorsey had not been able to get much velocity on his passes in his previous starts because of a sore thumb and a groin strain. When asked if he could have made that pass earlier this season, Dorsey said, "I don't know. That's tough to say. Confidence-wise, I don't know."

--- QB Tim Rattay will miss at least another game with a torn right plantar fascia, the tight band of muscle under his arch. "He might be back in two weeks and he could miss the rest of the year," Erickson said.

--- CB Ahmed Plummer was hoping to return to action at some point in the final three games, which is why the club did not place him on injured reserve last week. But the Niners finally gave up on that hope, placing him on the IR list Tuesday. The 49ers placed center Jeremy Newberry and linebacker Brandon Moore on IR to promote quarterback Brandon Doman and running back Ken Simonton for Sunday's game.

--CB Joselio Hanson made one of the plays of the game, coming off Cardinals WR Bryant Johnson to bat down a pass thrown to TE Freddie Jones late in regulation in the end zone that forced overtime. Hanson is the 49ers' No. 3 corner but finished with five tackles and two passes defensed.


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