Niners notebook: Arrowhead anxiety awaits

The 49ers have proven to be a good second-half team in their first three games of the season. That part is just fine with coach Mike Nolan. However, now he wants his team to show a little more in the first halves of their games. The 49ers have been outscored 58-20 in the first half, a trend the club desperately needs to avoid Sunday vs. the Chiefs amid the raucous atmosphere at Arrowhead Stadium.

"I believe when you go into a game, the preparation that you do during the week has a lot to do with how you start the game," Nolan said. "We need to continue to prepare and learn how to prepare well and, in doing so, we're going to get better and better."

The 49ers will find themselves in one of the more difficult environments for a visiting team on Sunday against the Chiefs. The stadium, considered the loudest outdoor stadium in the league, typically chews up and spits out young quarterbacks and inexperienced coaches.

Since 1994, the Chiefs are 23-5 against head coaches making their regular-season debuts at Arrowhead. The Chiefs have also won 17 of their past 19 games against quarterbacks in their first or second seasons at NFL starters who are making their first appearance as a starter at Arrowhead.

Alex Smith, a second-year quarterback, and second-year coach Nolan will make their debuts at Arrowhead Stadium.

"I hear it's quite the environment," Smith said.

Smith has made five road starts in his NFL career, with his only win coming at St. Louis last season when he completed 12 of 16 passes for 131 yards in a 24-20 victory over the Rams. Smith listed playing road games against the Redskins and Rams as the most difficult place to play.

"The noise in being on the road can disrupt the continuity of the offense," Smith said.

The 49ers routinely practice during the week of a road game with speakers blaring artificial crowd noise to simulate the challenges they will face during the game. The 49ers are 1-2 entering the game against the Chiefs (0-2), who desperately need a victory to avoid digging a huge hole in their bid to earn a spot in the AFC playoffs.

"Obviously, the stadium we are going into, they do everything they can to make you jump offside or turn the ball over," said Nolan, who has been a visitor at Arrowhead many times during his 18 seasons as a NFL assistant coach. "Kansas City has always been a difficult place to play. It's always a tough fight."

Smith appears better equipped this season to handle the adversity that teams must face in road games. He heads into Sunday's game with an 89.8 passer rating, and averaging 7.5 yards per passing attempt.

Smith seemed to get better last week against the Eagles as he was getting pounded by the pass rush. Smith was sacked three times and hit approximately 15 other times. He still managed to pass for a career-high 293 yards.

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Running back Michael Robinson appears ready to take over as the team's short-yardage back. Robinson showed his impressive short-yardage style when he flattened Eagles safety Brian Dawkins on the goal line on a 1-yard touchdown run.

Dawkins had made an earlier stop of Frank Gore on the same play. Gore fumbled on a hit from Dawkins two plays later, resulting in defensive tackle Mike Patterson's 98-yard fumble return. Gore was injured on the play, prompting Robinson to get extended action for the final 20 minutes of the game.

"The time before Brian stepped in there and put his helmet on Frank's thigh," Nolan said. "I know Michael Robinson well enough to know he watched that play. And so when he went in there, he knew the play Frank ran. We had the same play called. I think Michael anticipated what would happen, and he thought, 'One (defender) is not going to stop me.'"

Robinson said he was not aware that Dawkins was the player he took on at the end zone. Dawkins was knocked woozy on the play, and now is listed as questionable on Philadelphia's injury report this week with a concussion.

"I didn't even know it was him," Robinson said. "I just wanted to get in the end zone. I told my offensive linemen, 'Put a hat on everybody, and if there's one left, we'll get in there.'"

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Nolan defended his decision against the Eagles to let most of the final minute of the first half tick off the clock before punting from the Eagles' 40-yard line. The 49ers were down 24-3 at the time. His critics said the 49ers should have been more aggressive at the end of the half to cut into the deficit before the end of the half.

"Unlike many of you, I thought we were still in the game," Nolan said. "I think the attitude, 'You've got to go for it at that time,' is the attitude that you're out of the game. I did not have that feeling. And it was evident in the second half that it was the correct feeling because we held them 79 yards of total offense and 60 of it came on one play."

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Smith was seen as an impressive athlete when he came to the 49ers as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. But he showed it for the first time Sunday against the Eagles with 39 yards rushing on six carries.

Smith took off running on his own for a 22-yard gain on a third-and-11 play in the second quarter, and ran over a Philadelphia defensive back to tack on an extra yard as the end of the play.

"Got the look and I saw it," Smith said. "We talked about it during the week a little bit. They didn't have anybody to cover the quarterback. If you can break contain, you can get out and get some yardage. I saw it split when I took the snap."

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The 49ers extended the contracts of cornerback Shawntae Spencer and offensive lineman Adam Snyder last week. With Spencer's new five-year, $20 million extension, he is signed through the 2012 season. Snyder signed a four-year, $10.5 million extension through 2011. Snyder is a second-year player whom the 49ers selected in the third round last year.

The 49ers have expressed interest in signing offensive lineman Justin Smiley, safety Mike Adams, and running backs Frank Gore and Maurice Hicks to extensions. However, it does not appear any of those deals will be agreed upon in the near future.

Adams and Hicks, who will be restricted free agents in 2007, already have rejected preliminary offers.

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The 49ers have come a long way since last season when their tight ends combined for 17 receptions.

This season, the 49ers have some depth at the position, which allows them to go to the bench to place Eric Johnson in the starting lineup to replace No. 6 overall pick Vernon Davis.

Davis is expected to miss four weeks with a fractured right leg, and Johnson is scheduled to enter the starting lineup Sunday when the 49ers travel to play the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Johnson caught seven passes for 87 yards and a touchdown after taking over for Davis, who was injured in Sunday's game against the Eagles.

"It's a long way from last year," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "Last year we'd get free agents in here who were playing the next week and cramming to learn the offense in short period of time."

Johnson emerged as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the NFL in 2004 with a team-leading 82 receptions for 825 yards and two touchdowns. But Johnson did not play last season after sustaining a season-ending foot injury in the preseason.

The 49ers used Steve Bush, Billy Bajema, Trent Smith and Terry Jones as starting tight ends last season in place of Johnson. Jones was claimed off waivers in the middle of the season and started for the 49ers five days later.

Johnson's future with the 49ers was clouded after the 49ers selected Davis with their top pick. Johnson saw limited time in the first 2.5 game this season before Davis was injured.

PLAYER NOTES
--- QB Alex Smith's 46 pass attempts without an interception against the Eagles ranks No. 4 all-time in the 49ers' record book. Dating to last season, Smith has attempted 132 passes without an interception. The top three marks in team history are Steve Young (183), Joe Montana (154) and Jeff Garcia (150).
--- RB Frank Gore has 266 yards in three games, ranking higher than any other running back chosen in the 2005 draft. Gore has scored three touchdowns. But Gore has lost three fumbles in three games. He is nursing bruised ribs, but the club believes he will play Sunday against the Chiefs.
--RB Maurice Hicks has just one carry for 3 yards this season, but he is still considered Frank Gore's backup, coach Mike Nolan said. When Gore left the game last week with bruised ribs, Michael Robinson saw most of the action in his place. Hicks has averaged 26.4 yards on 10 kickoff returns.
--DT Bryant Young, who will be matched up about 50 percent of the time this week against contemporary Chiefs RG Will Shields, has two sacks and five QB pressures in three games.
--FS Mike Adams is trying to bounce back after a rough game against the Eagles, during which he failed to tackle RB Brian Westbrook 35 yards down the field on a play that resulted in a 71-yard TD run. Adams has generally played well this season, as he ranks second on the team with 17 tackles.
--TE Eric Johnson, who caught a team-leading 82 passes for the 49ers in 2004, currently is tied for third with eight catches for 89 yards. Johnson saw his first extended action Sunday since 2004 after Vernon Davis left with a broken leg. Johnson missed last season with a foot injury.
--WR Brandon Williams, a third-round draft pick, made his 49ers regular-season debut and handled some of the return duties. Williams averaged 4.0 on three punt returns, and 21.3 yards on four kickoff returns.


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