Niner of the Week

Linebacker Julian Peterson is SFI's NOTW for his performance during the 49ers' 24-6 loss to the New York Giants.

Sunday standout: The sixth-year linebacker led all players with a game-high nine tackles and spearheaded a San Francisco defensive effort that kept the 49ers in the game heading into the fourth quarter. Peterson had several big plays to thwart New York offensive drives and seven of his nine tackles prevented the Giants from picking up a first down. Six of those tackles limited a New York ball carrier to three yards or fewer and three were behind the line of scrimmage. Peterson personally wrecked New York's third drive after the Giants had reached midfield with a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter. With New York facing a second-and-4 situation at the 50-yard line, Peterson shot through the line from his left linebacker position and stuffed running back Tiki Barber in the backfield for a six-yard loss. Pushed back into their own territory, the Giants eventually were forced to punt. After New York had driven to the San Francisco 35 on the Giants' next possession, Peterson drilled running back Brandon Jacobs in the backfield for a two-yard loss on 4th-and-1 to give the ball back to the 49ers and halt a New York scoring opportunity. With the score still 3-0 midway through the second period, Peterson combined with safety Mike Adams to stuff short-yardage back Jacobs for no gain on a third-and-1 play from the New York 37, forcing the Giants to punt for the third time in their first five series. Perhaps Peterson's biggest play came midway through the third period after the 49ers had broken through on the scoreboard to make it a 10-3 game. With New York backed up to its 12 on a third-and-25 play, quarterback Eli Manning dumped off a short pass to fullback Jim Finn, who was blasted by Peterson as he turned upfield after making the reception. Peterson's hard hit forced a fumble and sent Finn – who had to be helped off the field – to the sideline with an injury on the play. The Giants recovered the fumble, but they had to punt from their own 15, which allowed the 49ers to get good field position and drive to a field goal that made it a 10-6 game entering the final period.

Season to date: Peterson's big effort indicates he is reaching top form again after being hampered for several weeks by a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the Oct. 2 game against Arizona in Mexico City. The two-time Pro Bowler started the season strong with eight tackles and a career-high 2.5 sacks in the opener against St. Louis and had eight tackles in Week 2 at Philadelphia before being hurt in the second half against Dallas in Week 3, when he also was having a good game. Peterson also had a solid six-tackle effort against Tampa Bay in Week 8 before turning it up for perhaps his best game of the season against the Giants. In just more than six games of action this season (he participated in only five plays against Indianapolis in Week 5 before aggravating his hamstring injury and leaving the game), Peterson ranks fifth on the team with 27.5 tackles, is tied for second with Andre Carter with 2.5 sacks, has five quarterback pressures, five tackles for loss, three passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Need to note: Coming off his first-team All-Pro season of 2003, Peterson was beginning to hit top gear after a protracted training camp holdout last year when he suffered a season-ending left Achilles tendon tear in Week 5 against Arizona. Despite the injury, the team's new regime tagged Peterson as San Francisco's franchise player during the offseason for the second consecutive year, but he can become a free agent in March. Since the 2002 season, Peterson ranks third behind LaVar Arrington and Brian Urlacher among NFC linebackers with 14 sacks.

Coach Mike Nolan says: "Since he's come back, Julian has gotten better and better each week. I hope that continues with him. I think he's that kind of a player, too. I just think the more he plays, he does get better, whereas some guys just show up the same all the time, whether it's good or bad. He's getting better and better. I've been impressed with his participation in meetings, just with the questions he asks, he's impressed me. He does the right thing. He's not afraid to ask questions in meetings, and the questions he asks are good questions. I'm not going to say that's unique, but you like players that do that."

Looking ahead: The return of Peterson to full strength has had a notable impact on the San Francisco defense the past two weeks against Tampa Bay and New York, and he is a difference-maker who lifts the play of the entire unit. Considering that the 49ers will need their defense to carry them the remainder of the season while the offense develops and matures, Peterson's individual play will have a significant impact on the unit's performance and productiveness, since he is the leader of the defense and the team's top playmaker. Peterson also has plenty of incentive to finish strong in the second half of the season, since he will become a free agent in March unless he is tagged again or signed to a long-term contract by the 49ers. Either way, he is playing for a big payday, whether it's with the 49ers or another NFL team.

ALSO CONSIDERED: K Joe Nedney (field goals of 48 and 52 yards, all three kickoffs inside New York 5-yard line); CB Shawntae Spencer (eight tackles, two passes defensed, solid in coverage, kept plays in front of him)

PREVIOUS NOTW LIST: Week 1: DE Bryant Young. Week 2: P Andy Lee. Week 3: WR Brandon Lloyd. Week 4: DE Bryant Young. Week 5: LB Jeff Ulbrich. Week 6: No selection (49ers bye week). Week 7: RB Frank Gore. Week 8: K Joe Nedney.

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