Niner of the Week
Sunday standout: The 12th-year veteran got the 49ers off to the best start imaginable in the nationally-televised game at Mexico City's Estadio Azteca, blowing past Arizona right guard Elton Brown on the game's first play from scrimmage and then crashing into quarterback Josh McCown as he looked to throw from deep in Arizona territory. The big hit produced a fumble that linebacker Brandon Moore carried to the 1-yard line, where he fumbled after being hit by running back Marcel Shipp. Linebacker Derek Smith then fell on the football in the end zone to give San Francisco a 7-0 lead with just nine seconds elapsed in the first quarter. That was the first of Young's two sacks in the game. The second came on the third play of the fourth quarter, with the 49ers trailing just 18-14 and still very much in the contest. The Cardinals had a second-and-1 play at the San Francisco 15 as McCown dropped pass to throw on the free down. But Young split a double-team block and again corralled McCown and drove him to the turf for a nine-yard loss. That turned a second-and-short situation into third-and-10, and the drive stymied there as the Cardinals were forced to settle for a Neil Rackers field goal that left the 49ers still within a touchdown of the Arizona lead. Young was a steady force in the middle of the trenches all evening long, recording six tackles and playing a big part in limiting the Arizona rushing game to an average of just 2.9 yards per carry. He also caught Shipp in the backfield after a short pass for a two-yard loss and stuffed Arizona fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo for no gain on the first play of Arizona's final drive of the first half. Season to date: Young leads the NFL with six sacks. Only two other players have as many as five. In four games this year, Young already has doubled his entire sack total of last season. Sunday's game was the 19th multi-sack game of Young's career. He also leads all 49ers defensive linemen and ranks fourth on the team with 18 tackles so far. Young – who had three sacks in Week 1, when he also was SFI's NOTW – has dropped opposing quarterbacks for 47 yards in losses this season. He has recorded at least one sack and at least five tackles in three of San Francisco's four games so far. Need to note: Young, San Francisco's first-round draft choice in 1994, is the longest-tenured 49er and the only player on the roster that has been with the team since before the 1998 season. He entered this season with 69.5 career sacks, the third-highest total in team history and the most ever by a San Francisco defensive tackle. Young technically is a defensive end now in the team's switch to a 3-4 scheme, and his 75.5 career sacks place Young seventh among the NFL's active career sack leaders. Young has reached six sacks in a season for the seventh time in his career and already has surpassed his season sack total of each of the past three years. Coach Mike Nolan says: "I would go to war with that guy any time. He fights hard. Our guys watch him and we're going to get better as a team because of that. We have some good football players, but they're young guys and they're just learning. But they do learn by watching Bryant Young because he is that kind of player. Going into halftime (against Arizona), I thought we'd start to show (signs of wearing down) and slack off (defensively) just because of all the reps that we had. But I have a very vivid picture in my mind of Bryant Young and several guys that continued to play at a high level as far as intensity goes." Looking ahead: It appears Young already has made a smooth transition to 3-4 end after being a 4-3 tackle the first 11 seasons of his career. "It's kind of ironic that people say that the ends in a 3-4 don't make any plays," Nolan said. "It just goes to show you that the flexibility of the scheme leads to good players making plays, which is the whole premise of it." That premise obviously is working for Young, but he must continue to make it work and provide impact performance on a weekly basis, because San Francisco's lagging defense – ranked last in the NFL in yards and points allowed – needs everything it can get from its veteran warrior. ALSO CONSIDERED: WR Brandon Lloyd (seven receptions for 102 yards); CB Derrick Johnson (five tackles, 78-yard fumble return for a touchdown in first NFL start despite missing second half with groin injury). PREVIOUS NOTW LIST: Week 1: DE Bryant Young. Week 2: P Andy Lee. Week 3: WR Brandon Lloyd.
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