49ers replay

Quarterback Alex Smith looked better in the 49ers' season-opening loss to the Arizona Cardinals than at any point during his rookie season.

Smith completed 23 of 40 passes for 288 yards - all career-highs - and a touchdown. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft looked the part, though the 49ers head into Sunday's game against the Rams carrying an opening-week loss.

When asked how important it was for Smith to play well to open the season, 49ers coach Mike Nolan answered, "Now that it's over, it's not as important as (this) week. But it's important, not just for Alex but for the team. They look at him and see he can move the ball and that he's getting better all the time."

Smith had seven starts as a rookie and struggled mightily. He threw 11 interceptions with just one touchdown and compiled a lowly passer rating of 40.8.

"I think I've come a long way," said Smith, who compiled a career-best 88.3 passer rating against the Cardinals. "The guys around me - my teammates and coaches - are always putting in time with me and it's coming. I was anxious to wipe away the memories of last year. I learned a lot from it, but there were frustrating times."

Two other youngsters showed a lot of promise in the season debut, as well.

Running back Frank Gore rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He also caught six passes for 83 yards. The 49ers traded away running back Kevan Barlow last month to the Jets for a fourth-round draft pick. Barlow had been the 49ers' featured back for the previous two seasons.

"I know some of you might ask, 'Do you really think you found a back?'" Nolan said. "No, I think I knew a long time ago."

Also, rookie tight end Vernon Davis showed his immense physical talents when he took a screen pass and blasted 31 yards down the sideline for a touchdown on his first touch of the season.

The 49ers rolled up 393 total yards - better than they managed in any game last season - despite missing the services of left guard Larry Allen for most of the game. Allen, who was the team's best offensive lineman in the preseason, sustained a left knee sprain on the fifth play of the game.

Neither Allen or left tackle Jonas Jennings (right ankle) are expected to play Sunday against the Rams.

GAME REPLAY

The 49ers had two good shots at the end zone in the closing seconds from the 36-yard line but came up empty in a 34-27 loss in Glendale, Ariz.

After falling behind 21-7 in the first quarter, the 49ers put enough together to remain in the game until the end. Nolan said he liked what he saw from his team after a year in which the club ranked last in the NFL in offense and defense.

"I think we're a better football team than we were a year ago, but we haven't arrived," Nolan said.

PLAYER NOTES

--- LG Larry Allen went down on the fifth play of the game with a left knee sprain. Allen was listed as doubtful for next week's game against the Rams on the preliminary injury report. Tony Wragge filled in for Allen.

--- LT Jonas Jennings missed seven plays with a right high ankle sprain. He returned to the game but was listed as doubtful for the game next week against the Rams on the preliminary injury report.

--- WR Arnaz Battle was chosen as the team's primary punt returner, supplanting rookie Brandon Williams. Battle returned three punts for 71 yards, including a 60-yarder in the fourth quarter.

--- LB Brandon Moore did not start but he showed his worth as a pass rusher. Moore recorded one sack and pressured Cardinals QB Kurt Warner into an intentional-grounding penalty.

--- TE Vernon Davis had an up-and-down first game in the NFL. The first time he touched the ball, he scored on a 31-yard screen play, demonstrating his uncommon speed down the left sideline. Davis later fumbled and sustained a left hip bruise on the play. Later, he dropped a pass that would've kept a drive alive deep in Cardinals territory.

--- RB Frank Gore ran extremely hard, gaining 87 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He also caught six passes for 83 yards. But Gore also committed a fumble that led to a short Cardinals TD drive


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