Niner of the Week

Defensive end Bryant Young is SFI's NOTW for his performance during the 49ers' 28-25 season-opening victory over the St. Louis Rams.

Sunday standout: Making his first start as a defensive end in San Francisco's new 3-4 scheme, Young recorded three sacks before halftime, setting the tone for an afternoon when constant pressure on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger helped slow down St. Louis' high-powered offense enough to allow the underdog 49ers to begin the Mike Nolan era with an upset victory over a heated divisional rival. Though the new defensive system is not built for its linemen to make sacks, Young used his quickness and power to fight off St. Louis blockers and slip through gaps to match his entire 2004 season sack total just two periods into the 2005 opener. All three of Young's sacks came in the second quarter and two came after St. Louis had driven inside the red zone, forcing the Rams to settle for field goals both times. Young's first sack came on a third-down play with the Rams in St. Louis territory, forcing a punt that rookie Fred Amey returned 75 yards for a game-swaying touchdown. Young finished with four tackles and also was a force in the 49ers holding the line of scrimmage and bottling a St. Louis rushing game that averaged only 3.4 yards on 26 attempts and produced just 49 net yards on the ground after the first quarter. Last but not least, Young was the 49er who was in Bulger's face applying pressure on the game-deciding play, forcing Bulger to throw slightly behind Isaac Bruce on a first-down pass play with the Rams in position to attempt a game-tying field goal in the final minute. Bruce tipped the ball and Niners cornerback Mike Adams intercepted it at the San Francisco 24-yard line with 59 seconds to play, sealing a hard-fought and inspiring victory that was made possible in part by the stalwart play of the longest-tenured player on the team .

Need to note: It was the 18th multiple-sack game of Young's 12-year career, but just the second time he has had three sacks in a game. His other three-sack game also was against the Rams, coming during San Francisco's 28-11 victory at St. Louis in October of 1996 that was one of the 49ers' top defensive performances of that season. Young produced a career-high 11.5 sacks that season and now has 72.5 career sacks – the third-highest total in San Francisco history. Young's 69.5 sacks entering this season were the most ever in team history by a defensive tackle. Young's three-sack day moved him past New England's Willie McGinest into eighth place among the NFL's active career sack leaders.

Young says: "I'm just trying to do all I can for this team. I'm just working within the scheme and doing my part. I just wanted to go and make some big plays (Sunday). This was a huge win, and we needed this first win to gain confidence and momentum going into the year."

Coach Mike Nolan says: "He does have the dirty-work job a lot of times. Playing that left defensive end on this defense, he does a lot of dirty work. He has to hold up against a lot of double teams. But that's about a third of our game. The other two-thirds of the game he's either moving, stunting or doing something where he has to take advantage of the times he has to dirty work. He found himself rushing some tackles, which he hasn't done in a while. I think what it shows more than anything else is that when he's single, he's a tough one to block. When he was an inside as a tackle, there's two guys banging him all the time. It's a case of how good he is when you single him."

Looking ahead: Since he's San Francisco's best defensive lineman, how Young responds to the move from tackle to end is going to play a huge factor in both the 49ers' season and the success of their new defensive system. So far, so very good. The 49ers will continue to look for impact performance from Young in holding the point of attack on running downs and creating disruption on passing downs, and any time he can produce sacks it will be a huge bonus. When he produces multiple sacks, there's a good chance the 49ers will have happy endings like Sunday's.

ALSO CONSIDERED: LB Julian Peterson (eight tackles, 2.5 sacks), QB Tim Rattay (11 of 16 passing for 165 yards and two TDs, 141.9 passer rating for game), WR-KR Fred Amey (75-yard punt return for touchdown on first touch of NFL career).


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