Barlow no average RB

Kevan Barlow finished the season with the lowest average per carry of any starting running back in the NFL this season, but he ended the season with a flourish, gaining 175 yards on 40 carries over San Francisco's final two games to avoid matching the second-lowest average by a 49ers' leading rusher in team history.

Barlow broke the 100-yard barrier for just the second time this season in the season finale against New England, gaining 103 yards on 25 carries as he rushed for 71 yards on 12 carries in the second half.

That allowed Barlow - who entered that game with a 3.3 average - to raise his final average to 3.4 per carry. The lowest average by a leading rusher in team history is Ken Willard's 3.0 average in 1967. Barlow avoided matching the 3.3 averages posted by Willard in 1969 and '70, Vic Washington in 1972, Jeff Moore in 1982 and Derek Loville in 1995.

Barlow credited the chemistry he developed with the offensive line for the team's improvement in the run game over the last several weeks.

"It was definitely a learning season," Barlow said. "All you can do is build off the positive things we accomplished this year and try to use it toward next year. It was a disappointing season for us, but you just have to keep your head up and try to rebuild and get better next year."

Barlow, who rushed for 1,024 yards last year after starting just four games, was signed to a five-year, $20 million contract in the offseason. But he fell on hard times this season, briefly losing his starting job to Maurice Hicks.

Barlow finished with 822 yards and seven touchdowns on 244 carries this season, rushing for 202 yards fewer than last year despit having 43 more carries.

He said he plans to give former 49ers running back Roger Craig a call in the near future to speak with him about training for the 2005 season.

And, despite the uncertainty surrounding the organization and - perhaps - Barlow's place in it, he says he definitely plans to be playing for the 49ers in 2005.

"I don't think there's no doubt there," Barlow said. "I went out there and gave 100 percent effort. It was a disappointing season. Yes, I set a high standard for myself, but you can't blame it all on me."

--- Hicks ended his season on a poor note with his third and fourth lost fumbles of the season. Hicks touched the ball only 112 times from scrimmage this season. One of Hicks' fumbles against the Patriots was a game-changing turnover late in the third quarter.

"You always want to end on a good note," Hicks said. "I got to put all N --RB Maurice Hicks ended his season on a poor note with his third and fourth lost fumbles of the season. Hicks touched the ball only 112 times from scrimmage this season. One of Hicks' fumbles against the Patriots was a game-changing turnover late in the third quarter.

"You always want to end on a good note," Hicks said. "I got to put all this behind me and look forward to getting better. My focus now is on going out there and getting stronger and better and work on the things I need to work on to be a better player."

Hicks - who rushed for 139 yards in his first NFL start during a Dec. 12 victory at Arizona, the team's highest total in a game this season - slumped at the end of the year after a strong start and finished as the team's second-leading rusher with 362 yards on 96 carries, a 3.8 average.

The team's third-leading rusher - sixth-year veteran Terry Jackson - also finished with an average below four yards. Jackson gained 101 yards on 26 carries for a 3.9 average.

--- WR Cedrick Wilson sustained a fractured left leg when he got tackled on a third-quarter kickoff return against New England. Wilson is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and he said he thought he played well enough to earn his spot back with the 49ers next season.

"I made the best of my opportunities," he said. "When you're coming up on free agency, you want to have a big year, and I think I did that."

Wilson finished the season with 47 catches for 641 yards, making him the top-ranking wide receiver on the team.

--- QB Ken Dorsey had his best statistical game of his seven starts against the Patriots, completing 18 of 29 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. His passer rating was 92.5.

"Wow, they are great," Dorsey said of the Patriots. "I think the past three weeks we went against three of the top defenses in the NFL and top it off with the defending Super Bowl champs. It was a tough stretch, but to end it against a team like this and the type of players they have on defense was tough. But we were up to the challenge."

--- WR Curtis Conway, 33, a 12-year veteran who contemplated retirement before the 49ers offered him a contract, said he wants to play at least one more season.

"I really found I loved the game," Conway said. "I'm definitely going to play next year, so hopefully somebody saw the good in what I did and gives me a call."

Conway caught 38 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns and said he'd like to return to the 49ers.

--- WR Rashaun Woods had a 59-yard catch-and-run in the final seconds against New England, finishing with three receptions for 76 yards. He completed his disappointing rookie season 11th on the team in receptions with seven catches for 160 yards, a 22.9 average.

"I think I need to come out during the offseason and take advantage of the off time," he said. "I love my home in Oklahoma, but I need to stay in San Francisco and stay with the guys who can help me get better."

--- When Dorsey hit fullback/tight end Steve Bush on a 4-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, it snapped the Patriots' NFL-record streak of scoring first in 23 straight games. Bush started at fullback with Fred Beasley sidelined with a neck strain.


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