Niner of the Week

Wide receiver Antonio Bryant is SFI's Niner of the Week for his performance during the 49ers' 20-13 victory of the St. Louis Rams in San Francisco's home opener.

Sunday standout: The fifth-year veteran made the game's pivotal play early in the third quarter when he slipped behind St. Louis cornerback Tye Hill and late-arriving safety Oshiomogho Atogwe to haul in a deep pass from quarterback Alex Smith down the right sideline and turn it into a 72-yard touchdown play that broke a 10-10 tie and gave the 49ers a lead they never would relinquish. The 72-yard reception is the second-longest of Bryant's career, trailing only his 78-yard touchdown catch as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys against Arizona in 2002. It also was the longest for the 49ers since Brandon Lloyd's 89-yard touchdown reception in 2005. Bryant also had a long 34-yard reception in the first quarter on his way to finishing with four receptions for a game-high 131 yards receiving. His other two receptions also went for first downs to extend San Francisco drives. He had a nine-yard reception that moved San Francisco near midfield late in the third quarter and a 16-yarder midway through the fourth quarter when he beat cornerback Travis Fisher on a quick slant on a second-and-13 play and carried him down to the St. Louis 4-yard line, putting the 49ers in position for a 20-yard field goal by Joe Nedney that closed the scoring with 5:23 remaining. Bryant also continues to play the complete game - he had a crushing downfield block on San Francisco's third offensive play from scrimmage that helped spring Arnaz Battle for about 20 extra yards on a 56-yard passing play that set up San Francisco's first points of the afternoon on a short Nedney field goal.

Season to date: Bryant leads the 49ers with eight receptions for 245 yards, and his 30.6 average per catch leads all NFL receivers. Bryant ranks second in the NFC and third in the NFL in receiving yards behind Laveranues Coles of the New York Jets (253) and Donald Driver of the Green Bay Packers (249). Bryant had four receptions for 114 yards in San Francisco's season opener at Arizona.

Need to note: Bryant has started his 49ers career with back-to-back 100-yard games, the sixth and seventh of his career. The 131-yard outburst against St. Louis is second in Bryant's career only to his 170-yard effort against Washington in the final game of his rookie season. Bryant now has recorded three consecutive 100-yard games dating back to his final game with the Cleveland Browns last season, when he had a career-high nine receptions for 123 yards to spark a 20-16 victory of Baltimore. Bryant, who signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the 49ers as a free agent in March, recorded career-high totals of 69 receptions for 1,009 yards with the Browns last season.

Bryant says: "I'm very animated. I would probably be the most animated character out there if I was a cartoon. It wasn't the fact that I wasn't getting the ball because I'm going to get the ball. It's just the fact that I like to score touchdowns and we were kicking too many field goals. Every time we practice, we don't kick field goals at the end of it, we go in and score. That's what I like to see us do and it was frustrating because we had the capabilities to do that, but we weren't accomplishing our goals to the task at hand. Some people don't talk about it, but I'm not that type of person. If I'm not talking, something really is wrong. I'm going to say something because we need to start throwing touchdowns. I told coach that we probably left two or three scores on the field, whether it be two touchdowns and a field goal or two field goals and a touchdown. We left some scores on the field and we got to go out and make up for it."

Coach Mike Nolan says: "Antonio is a very competitive player. He does get animated at times, but he's growing up. The body language is not appropriate and he understands that you have to be careful with that, because you don't want it to go down. He's just working through it. He understands it. He can articulate it right away. He says, ‘I need to count to 10,' or whatever it be. I can accept that. He and I have our moments, but I'm darn glad he's here. He understands that people are going to key on him some and he also understands that nobody is trying to do the wrong thing by him. He also understands that sometimes you just have to wait a little longer for good things to happen. The other day was actually a good example of that for him. It doesn't change the fact that he wants it now and boy, am I glad it doesn't. You don't want a guy who says, ‘Coach, I'm OK. I didn't catch any balls. It's OK with me that I'm not in the plan.' That's not good for me. We're not good with that. You want a guy who says, ‘Coach, why aren't I in it?' It's a tough question, but, by golly, I'll answer it. If you're that good, I better have a good answer if you're not getting the ball."

Quarterback Alex Smith says: "A lot of times he comes out and he wants the ball. I don't know what receiver doesn't want the ball. He wants to win as bad as anyone in this room and he'll take it any way he can. You'll see him out there blocking on run plays. He works extremely hard. He's an emotional person and an emotional player and he loves the game. I think he's definitely a team player. He wants to be good and he wants the team to be good. I like that about him and think that's what makes him such a good player. It's that edge. At times in games he gets emotional and wants the ball and wants to be part of things, but he works hard and there is no ill will or selfishness. He sees the big picture. He realizes that in this team, success is out of all of us. I think you start getting worried when it's the opposite."

Looking ahead: As the 49ers move into the heart of their schedule, Bryant will try to keep up the prodigious pace he has established through two games. His two big games to start the season will draw attention from defensive coordinators throughout the league, but Bryant does a good job of getting open with his speed and strength getting off jams, and opponents also have to be aware of speedy tight end Vernon Davis down the middle, which means safeties won't always be able to help on Bryant's side of the field. He should remain Smith's No. 1 target in the passing game throughout the season, just as he has been since training camp started in July.

ALSO CONSIDERED: CB Walt Harris (team-high seven tackles and three passes defensed, strong in coverage, received game ball for defense); RB Frank Gore (career-high 127 yards rushing on 29 carries, 32-yard TD run, two receptions); LB Manny Lawson (three tackles, two sacks, two quarterback pressures, 1 tackle for loss); QB Alex Smith (233 yards passing, 72-yard TD throw, career-best 103.0 passer rating for game); OT Adam Snyder (strong in both run blocking and pass protection in first start of season).

2006 NOTW LIST: Week 1: RB Frank Gore. Week 2: WR Antonio Bryant.


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