Niner of the Week

Linebacker Derek Smith is SFI's Niner of the Week for his performance in the 49ers' 24-20 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

Sunday standout: The ninth-year veteran was awarded a game ball after he had a game-high 12 tackles – 11 of them solo stops – to lead a defensive charge that helped the 49ers snap a seven-game losing streak with their only road victory of the season. Smith recorded eight tackles in the second half as the 49ers shut out the Rams in the final two quarters, with three coming on St. Louis' final possession, including on the two plays before rookie Ben Emanuel's interception sealed the victory for San Francisco. Smith twice stuffed St. Louis running backs behind the line of scrimmage for one-yard losses, with perhaps his biggest play coming with the Rams leading 20-17 with 9:16 remaining in the game. St. Louis had driven from midfield to the San Francisco 22-yard line and faced a fourth-and-1 situation. Instead of attempting a field goal that would have increased their lead to six points, the Rams decided to go for the first down. Smith crashed through the line and met Steven Jackson in the backfield, taking down St. Louis' 231-pound tailback before he could reach the line of scrimmage. It was the spark the 49ers needed as their offense took over possession at the San Francisco 23 and drove 77 yards for the winning touchdown.

Season to date: Smith recorded his sixth consecutive game of 11 tackles or more against the Rams and now has recorded double-digit tackle totals in 10 games this season. He is the 49ers' runaway leader in tackles with 152 this year and will lead the team in that category for the fifth consecutive season since he came to San Francisco in 2001. Smith recorded more than 100 tackles this year for the ninth consecutive season, joining Miami's Zack Thomas and Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks for the longest such streak among active NFL players. Smith also has contributed one interception, six passes defensed and one forced fumble in 2005. Smith was honored last week as the co-recipient of the Bill Walsh Award, given annually to the team's MVP as determined by a vote of coaches. Smith shared the honor with kicker Joe Nedney.

Need to note: Smith has recorded 10 or more tackles in 52 of 93 games (56 percent) since joining the 49ers, including 38 of 47 games (81 percent) over the past three seasons. Smith has scored two defensive touchdowns in the past two years, recovering a fumble in the end zone against Arizona earlier this season and returning a fumble 46 yards for a touchdown against Miami last season. Smith recorded a team-record 189 tackles in 2003 and also led the 49ers with 167 tackles in 2004, 138 in 2002 and 126 in 2001.

Coach Mike Nolan says: "Derek Smith continues to play well, as he has all year. He's played a solid game throughout the season. He was one of the recipients of our MVP of the season. I can remember Derek as a young player (when Smith and Nolan were both with the Redskins). Today when Derek comes to the sidelines, he's like a guy who's been in a lot of battles, because the bullets don't scare him. He's not really consumed by the opponent. He's thinking about the team and the call when you're giving him something."

Looking forward: Smith is on a pace to finish the season with 162 tackles, which would be the third-highest total of his career. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March and the 49ers already have indicated they would like to have him back in the future. Smith, 31, became a fixture in the team's new 3-4 defensive scheme this season and the Niners likely will give him at least a representative offer before he hits the open market, if not make signing him one of their top priorities in the offseason. Smith's steady play and sustained productivity likely will bring him some quality offers if he does hit the open market in March.

ALSO CONSIDERED: RB Maurice Hicks (109 yards rushing, 73-yard touchdown run on game's first play from scrimmage); RB Frank Gore (68 yards rushing, touchdown runs of 30 and 10 yards); C Eric Heitmann (strong play in trenches for running game that amassed 217 rushing yards); K Joe Nedney (career-long and team-record 56-yard field goal, strong on kickoffs); CB Shawntae Spencer (interception in end zone, six tackles, while playing with a strained quadriceps after entering game when Derrick Johnson was hurt in first quarter)

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. Week 13: S Keith Lewis. Week 14: LB Julian Peterson. Week 15: RB Frank Gore.

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