49ers Buc the trend
Wearing throwback jerseys from 1989 on "Red Fog Day" at Monster Park, the 49ers produced a throwback defensive performance that seldom has been seen here during the 21st century. Statistically the NFL's worst defense in six different categories – including yards allowed, points allowed and first downs allowed – a beleaguered San Francisco unit that has been embarrassed and humiliated most of the season somehow produced an astonishing about-face performance against a heavily-favored opponent that entered the day with the NFC's best record. With their problems throwing the football continuing, the 49ers went to the ground against the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense and controlled the game and clock with 158 yards rushing. The Niners struggled in the red zone and couldn't punch the ball into the end zone, but the offense set up Nedney to score all of San Francisco's points with field goals from 45, 47, 41, 46 and 28 yards. "It was nice to get out there and do something," said Nedney, who had attempted only four field goals – making each of them – in San Francisco's first six games. Nedney hardly was the only one doing something for the 49ers on an afternoon when San Francisco - an 11-point underdog on its home field - seemed to come together as a team in almost every aspect. And it started with defense. The 49ers allowed the league's fifth-ranked rushing attack just 43 yards on 20 carries – a 2.2 average – to set the tone early and keep it that way the rest of the game. In the process, a defense that allowed 204 yards rushing just last week in Washington – a defense allowing 457 yards and 35.3 points per game – surrendered its fewest points and fewest yards on the ground since midway through the 2003 season. The 49ers also sacked Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms five times and forced him into three turnovers. But ultimately, the defense hardly could be singled out as the 49ers – who have been blown out in four of their five losses, allowing at least 28 points in each of those five games – improved to 2-5 with their first victory since beating St. Louis on opening day. "The thing that's most impressive to me about it," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said, "is that it was a very good team victory. The offensive line blocked well, the running game was outstanding, the defense played well in all areas, and the kicking game continues to be a strength. "That's what's so nice about it. If it's just one phase, then not everybody really enjoys the sweetness of a victory. But everybody contributed, and that made it all the better. Obviously, I was very pleased with the performance. It's hard not to be as well as they played in all three phases." When Nolan says everybody contributed, he really means everybody. Second-year player Cody Pickett – the team's fourth-string quarterback who'd been playing scout-team receiver and defensive back in practices until veteran quarterback Tim Rattay was traded to Tampa Bay on Oct. 18 – entered the game at quarterback in a crucial situation just one play and 32 seconds after he had charged down field on special teams and tackled Tampa Bay punt returner Mark Jones with 11 minutes remaining in the game. Pickett was forced into action after Ken Dorsey – San Francisco's backup quarterback starting in place of injured rookie starter Alex Smith – suffered an ankle injury on the play before that punt. On the next play after the punt, Tampa Bay – which had produced just three points on its previous 11 offensive possessions – shocked the red-clad crowd as receiver Joey Galloway took a short pass from Simms and turned it into a 78-yard touchdown play to cut San Francisco's lead to 12-10. With 10:27 still remaining, the situation seemed perfectly ripe for a Tampa Bay comeback and a San Francisco collapse. But Pickett made sure it didn't happen. After an exchange of punts, he guided the 49ers on an 11-play, 42-yard drive that led to Nedney's final field goal. Pickett attempted only one pass, but he turned it into one of the key plays of the fourth quarter – a 10-yard completion to Brandon Lloyd from midfield on third-and-8 that kept the drive alive. Pickett had to change helmets before he entered the offensive huddle, putting on the one with the wireless connection to offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy. Only quarterbacks are allowed to wear those helmets. "You never know if you're going to play, but I had both of my helmets ready," Pickett said. "I was running out on the field (with the punt team), and I saw Ken limping off. I knew I might need my other helmet. I was only a small part of this one, but hopefully I gave us a boost there at the end." Defensive tackle Bryant Young provided San Francisco with two final boosts at the end – forcing a fumble by Simms with 1:56 remaining, then sacking him again on the game's final play after Tampa Bay got the ball back with 37 seconds to play following a missed 39-yard field-goal attempt by Nedney. The Niners got a game-long boost from tailback Kevan Barlow, who kept the offense moving with a game-high 101 yards rushing on 26 carries. Barlow also was San Francisco's leading receiver with two catches for 21 yards as he accounted for 122 of San Francisco's 208 offensive yards. Frank Gore added 40 yards rushing, and the Niners needed the standout effort from their ground game as Dorsey struggled before he was hurt, completing 7 of 18 passes for just 40 yards. "We knew we had an opportunity to come out and try to pound the ball and control the game," 49ers center Jeremy Newberry said. "We did a pretty good job of that. Thirty-nine carries is awesome – that gives us a chance to beat up their defense a little bit and just get after them. We've been wanting to do that all year." And, with the exception of their floundering passing game, this was an effort the 49ers have been looking for all season. San Francisco's defense allowed 275 yards – by far its lowest total of the year – and the Niners' rushing attack allowed them to win the time-of-possession battle for the first time this season. "We came out prepared and fought together, we played hard and we just believed in ourselves and our plan and we got it done," Young said.
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