49ers replay: Hard times for Vernon Davis

Rookie tight end Vernon Davis got off to a fast start this season, but has experienced his struggles after scoring a touchdown less than four minutes into the first game of his rookie season. Now, Davis said he expects to miss four weeks with a hairline fracture of his left fibula, an injury he sustained on a non-contact play against the Eagles.

"I've never been injured in my life," Davis said. "I'm not going to get down on myself because I knew that one day I would get an injury that I'd miss games from. I hate to miss games, but I'll just bounce back from it and be ready to go."

The injury to Davis, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, opens the door for Eric Johnson to regain his place as a major part of the 49ers' offense. Johnson led the 49ers with 82 catches for 825 yards in 2004, but sat out all of last season with a foot injury.

The 49ers had promised to make use of Davis and Johnson, but that plan had not materialized in the first two games. Johnson played just 27 snaps in two games, and Davis and Johnson were on the field together for only nine plays.

"From a personal standpoint, you want to be in there contributing as much as you can," Johnson said. "When you don't get that chance, obviously it can be frustrating. I thought I came in with a good attitude and played the role the coaches gave me."

At this stage in their careers, Johnson appears to be a more reliable pass-catcher. With Davis out of the lineup, Johnson caught a team-high seven passes for 87 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles. Johnson had one reception for two yards in San Francisco's first two games.

After catching a 31-yard touchdown pass for his first NFL reception, Davis has fallen on hard times. He lost a fumble at the end of one pass play, dropped a key third-down pass in a loss to the Cardinals, and had two potential big plays get away the past two weeks when he failed to hold onto attempted one-handed catches.

"I say to myself, 'If only I got it in my hands,'" Davis said. "I'm so desperate to get the ball in my hands. It's going to take time."

Perhaps Davis should be using two hands, something he'll have time to think about the next month while he is on the shelf.

"One hand, he doesn't do very good," coach Mike Nolan said Monday. "Two hands he does good."

Nolan says it's just something Davis needs to work on at the pro level. He'll get better as he gains experience, the coach said.

"Maybe in college he could get away with that," Nolan said. "Let's not forget that he's a rookie, and he came out a year early. Believe me, your techniques as a rookie, no matter how talented you are, are things you have to work on and learn." With Johnson in as the regular tight end, the 49ers gain a more polished pass-catcher and route runner, but lose Davis' speed, athleticism and blocking ability.

"(Johnson) can't stretch it like Vernon, but he can stretch it," Nolan said. "Vernon might be a yard or two further (down the field). But Eric was very effective. He has put in a lot of hard work and effort, and it paid off very well for him in the game."

And now will make him a prominent figure in San Francisco's passing games for several games to come.


Running back Frank Gore fumbled in the third consecutive game to open the season, and Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson returned the loose ball 98 yards for the decisive touchdown in a 38-24 win over the 49ers at Monster Park.

The 49ers (1-2) had expected to be more competitive against the Eagles, a team that defeated them 42-3 last season in Philadelphia. But the 49ers fell behind early in the game and never cut the deficit to fewer than 14 points.

"We did get down early this year, which is a similarity," said quarterback Alex Smith, who took a physical beating but still threw for a career-high 293 yards. "Look at our attitudes, our character, and not giving up. All those things show that we played a lot differently than last year."

--- RB Frank Gore left the game with an abdominal strain. He was listed as questionable for next week's game on the team's preliminary injury report, but Nolan said Monday that Gore "checked out OK" during hospital tests Sunday night and should be available this week. He'll remain questionable on the injury report until the 49ers get a look at him in practice later this week. Gore rushed for 52 yards on 16 carries and caught six passes for 22 yards before being hurt. He now ranks seventh among the NFL's rushing leaders with 266 yards.
--- QB Alex Smith had an impressive game, as he did not seem fazed by the punishment he took. He was sacked three times and rarely went untouched after delivering the ball. He completed 27 of 46 passes for a career-high 293 yards and a touchdown, and was hit on at least 15 of his passes. He also rushed six times for a career-high 39 yards.
--- LB Brandon Moore got his first start of the season, as the 49ers opened the game in a 3-4 defense. Moore recorded his second sack of the season and had two QB hurries.
--- S Chad Williams, the team's dime back, recorded a half-sack, giving him a team-leading 2.5 sacks for the season. He also recorded one quarterback hurry.
--- RB Michael Robinson became the primary back after Frank Gore went down with an injury midway through the third quarter. Robinson gained 29 yards and scored two touchdowns on five carries. San Francisco coaches currently are discussing an increased role for Robinson this week against the Kansas City Chiefs whether Gore is ready for the game or not.

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