Victory better than solidifying draft status

The 49ers head into the final game of the regular season holding a slim chance at the No. 1 overall draft pick for the second consecutive season.

But that's OK with vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan, who said he believes there is a lot more benefit from winning games late in the season than solidifying the team's draft status.

"From a draft standpoint, it doesn't matter," McCloughan said. "We'll play it out and wherever we pick is where we pick. There are going to be good players available no matter where we pick. We're here to win games."

The 49ers' biggest problems this season have been on offense, where the club has failed to score a touchdown in eight of 15 games. Offensivecoordinator Mike McCarthy, however, is embracing the challenge he faces with an inexperienced group.

"I love it," McCarthy said. "Someone had to take on the challenge, and I feel very fortunate that coach (Mike) Nolan picked me. I'm fully aware of the statistics and the rankings. It's uncharted territory for me personally, but I also know where we really started."

Rookie quarterback Alex Smith did not show much improvement through his first five NFL starts. He finally showed some glimpses of why the team selected him with the No. 1 overall pick as he had his best game last week while completing 12 of 16 passes for 131 yards in a victory over the Rams.

"We have a lot of work to do," McCarthy said. "I can say that 100 times. We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do, and everybody's aware of it. We're just not as far down the road as we'd like to be, but we're moving. I definitely see the promise."

GAME REPLAY VS. RAMS

Backup running backs Frank Gore and Maurice Hicks came up with huge games, combining for 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-20 victory over the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.

Hicks scored on a 73-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, and Gore had two touchdowns, including a 30-yard run to provide the go-ahead points late in the fourth quarter. Because of the efforts of Hicks and Gore, the 49ers are now a longshot to be awarded the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and the chance to select Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush of USC.

The 49ers defense came up with three huge stops in the fourth quarter to clinch the victory. Shawntae Spencer intercepted Jamie Martin in the end zone, Derek Smith and Anthony Adams stopped the Rams on a fourth-down run, and Ben Emanuel intercepted Martin in the final minute.

PLAYER NOTES

--- K Joe Nedney tied a 49ers record with a career-best 56-yard field goal as time expired in the first half Saturday. Nedney has made 24 of 26 field-goal attempts this season.

--- LB Julian Peterson was forced to play defensive back for most of the Rams game after injuries knocked starting CBs Derrick Johnson and Bruce Thornton out of action in the first half. Peterson finished with seven tackles.

--- WR Arnaz Battle returned to action for the first time in a month and led the 49ers with four catches for 37 yards against the Rams. He also had one carry for 8 yards.

--- RB Kevan Barlow has missed three of the past four games with a knee injury. Both Frank Gore and Maurice Hicks has performed well in Barlow's absence, opening the possibility that the Barlow's job as the starter might be in jeopardy when he is able to return to action. Barlow has gained just 581 yards on 176 carries, while Gore has rushed for 500 yards on 102 rushes this season.

--- QB Alex Smith has yet to throw a TD pass in 136 attempts to begin his career. With a solid game against the Rams, Smith's passer rating for the season has improved to 35.1.


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