Niner of the Week

Safety Keith Lewis is SFI's Niner of the Week for his performance during the 49ers' 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Sunday standout: The second-year veteran became the first NFL player to block a punt and record an interception in the same game since Baltimore's Ed Reed turned the trick against the Cardinals in Arizona on Oct. 12, 2003. Lewis did it against the Cardinals on his home turf, with his two big plays coming just five minutes apart between the third and fourth quarters to give the 49ers an opportunity to take command of the game. Lewis, who had come close to blocking a Scott Player punt earlier in the game, got another chance to do so with 2:03 remaining in the third quarter after the Cardinals were forced to kick again after Player's 38-yard punt on the preceding play was nullified by an Arizona penalty. This time, with the Cardinals punting from their own 41-yard line, Lewis overpowered blocking back Aaron Francisco and got his right hand up in front of the ball as Player attempted to kick away. The ball went tumbling backwards and Niners rookie Marcus Maxwell had an opportunity to pick it up on the run before the ball eventually was recovered by Corey Smith at the Arizona 26. After the 49ers lost three yards on their next three offensive plays, Joe Nedney kicked a 48-yard field goal to put the Niners back in front 10-9. After an exchange of punts, Lewis – subbing for injured free safety Mike Adams, who hurt his knee on the preceding Arizona offensive series – made a fine play in deep coverage to intercept Kurt Warner's pass intended for Larry Fitzgerald, who had four San Francisco defenders around him. But Lewis was the one that came down with the ball for his first career interception, giving the Niners a prime opportunity to seize control at their own 45-yard line. Lewis also led the 49ers on the day with two special teams tackles – one solo and one assisted.

Season to date: Lewis now ranks third on the 49ers with 11 special teams tackles, matching his season high against Arizona by recording two tackles on specialty units for the third time this season. He is the only player on the team to block a kick so far this season. Lewis also has a career-high six tackles on defense this season, registering two tackles in the first meeting against Arizona on Oct. 2 and a career-high four tackles (three solo) when he took over at strong safety for injured Tony Parrish in the team's Nov. 13 game at Chicago.

Need to note: Lewis became the first player in 49ers history to block a punt, force a fumble and recover a fumble in the same season when he recorded that trifecta on special teams last year in his rookie season. Lewis finished tied for second on the team with Terry Jackson last year with 17 special teams tackles. He had the team's only blocked punt of the year (against Washington), though he also blocked a punt in the season opener against Atlanta but wasn't given credit for a block because the ball was caught in the air by an Atlanta player and advanced beyond the line of scrimmage. Lewis, who had two tackles on defense last year, blocked a school-record seven kicks at the University of Oregon, where he was a two-time All-Pac 10 second-team safety and a first-team all-conference choice on both defense and special teams as a senior in 2003.

Lewis says: "I should have had two (blocks) in the game. I ran by the ball on the first one. I know you're only going to get so many opportunities. I thought that was going to be it after I missed that (first) one. Whenever you can, you just try to get a hand up. That happened a lot in college. I'd get a hand up, and the guy blocking me thought he had me, but when you get a hand up and keep pushing anything can happen. A lot of times I try to just bull rush and try to set the wing (blocker) up for other moves. They have to respect the moves. After you bull rush them the first time, they have to respect what you do the next time. (On the interception), Shawntae (Spencer) called out what route the guy was running, and that allowed me to get depth and actually see that Kurt Warner was looking to this side. And he threw it right to me, so it actually worked out."

Coach Mike Nolan says: "I thought Keith Lewis did an outstanding job. We had an opportunity to make them re-punt and we blocked it. It was a big play in the game. I thought it would make more of a difference in the game, but that was a very big play by Keith. He also had an interception on defense, which was a good play. He does make a difference in that area, and when he's gone in (on defense) lately, he's done a good job."

Looking ahead: With Adams listed as doubtful this week because of a sprained knee, Lewis will make his first career start at safety on Sunday against NFC West champion and conference frontrunner Seattle. He also will continue to be one of the 49ers' top forces on special teams the remainder of the season.

ALSO CONSIDERED: LB Derek Smith (game-high 11 tackles, strong all-around play, one pass defensed); WR Johnnie Morton (three catches for team-high 66 yards receiving, including back-to-back 24-yard receptions on 49ers' only touchdown drive of game)

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. Week 9: LB Julian Peterson. Week 10: K Joe Nedney. Week 11: WR Brandon Lloyd. Week 12: CB Shawntae Spencer.


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