Game blog: 49ers 34, Raiders 20

Taking an inside look from all angles at the 49ers' 34-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Monster Park in San Francisco.

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No interceptions for the 49ers in the first 4½ games of the season.

How about a hat trick by cornerback Walt Harris to fix that problem?

Well, the 49ers sure made up for their season-opening drought with a quick flurry of picks in the second half to finally take command of game they should have had well in hand long before then.

Thank Harris - the smooth veteran who is experiencing a career rebirth in his 11th NFL season - for that. Harris had the first three-interception game of his football life - the includes college, high school and even pee-wee ball - to set the tone for a defense that came away with five turnovers in the second half as the 49ers out-scored the Raiders 27-7 over the final two quarters.

Chad Williams had the other interception for the 49ers, returning his 43 yards on the second play of the fourth quarter to set up a field goal that gave San Francisco its first two-possession lead at 24-13.

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And how about that other takeaway recorded by the 49ers?

It allowed Melvin Oliver's first NFL touchdown to come much easier than he ever could have imagined

You've heard of Oliver, right? He's the sixth-round draft choice who has come from anonymity to forge his way into a starting role on the San Francisco defense, which is starting off in a 4-3 base set just because the rookie defensive end is better than any linebacker the 49ers would start instead of him in a 3-4 alignment.

Oliver got a gift touchdown that put the 49ers over the top midway through the fourth quarter simply by doing his job.

He kept outside contain when Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter attempted to dump off a pass to tailback LaMont Jordan with Oakland backed up near its own goal line. For the Raiders, the problem was that Jordan made a lame attempt to reach back for a one-handed grab on a ball that was thrown down the line of scrimmage.

Or thrown slightly backward, as it turned out.

Jordan just simply let the ball sit there at the 12-yard line, seeming almost uninterested. Oliver charged over, touched the ball on the ground, then picked it up as Jordan watched. Oliver stopped after picking up the ball, but when he heard no whistle, he turned it upfield and followed Anthony Adams and Jeff Ulbrich into the end zone to complete a 12-yard fumble return that gave the 49ers an insurmountable 31-13 lead with 10:30 remaining to play.

In the process, Oliver became the first rookie defensive lineman ever to score a touchdown for the 49ers.

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Meanwhile, on offense, the 49ers - after getting blanked last week in Kansas City - got rolling again behind their second-year duo of quarterback Alex Smith and running back Frank Gore.

As a backdrop to a game filled with mistakes and missed opportunities on both sides, Smith quietly put together another outstanding effort that easily could challenge some of his earlier efforts this season for being the very best of his career.

Smith finished with 15 completions in 19 attempts for 165 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, giving him a final 120.5 passer rating that also was the best of his career. It was his first multiple-touchdown game.

Smith also wasn't sacked for the second time in five games this season.

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And what about Gore, who limped into Sunday's games with four lost fumbles in four games? Sure, each of them mattered at the time, but that doesn't mean the 49ers are going to stop feeding Gore the football. And we mean early and often.

The game began with Gore ripping off a seven-yard gain, then bursting up the middle for 12 yards on the next play.

It set the tone for the day.

Before the opening possession was over - even though Michael Robinson came in to carry twice during the drive - Gore had carried six times for 39 yards and caught one pass for nine yards. Three of those plays produced first downs.

The hard-charging Gore ripped off big gains and took big hit's the rest of the day, always clutching the football dearly to his heart for good measure. He finished with a career-high 134 yards on 27 carries to climb further near the top among the NFL's rushing leaders.

Gore - who was second in the NFL with 460 yards from scrimmage in San Francisco's first two games - also had 38 yards receiving on three catches, raising his yards-from-scrimmage total to 632.

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Have the 49ers had a more crisp offensive drive in, well, like the past three seasons than their 12-play, 72-yard march to begin Sunday's game?

While taking a methodical stroll down the field that burned the first seven minutes, 34 seconds of the game, the 49ers showed both diversity and simplicity while sticking their opening drive into the end zone for just the second time this season.

The drive started with Gore going over right end, then over left guard, then up the middle on the game's first three plays from scrimmage. Gore carried six times on the drive, backup Michael Robinson carried twice, and Smith was 4-for-4 passing, including a nice rollout strike to Arnaz Battle to culminate the drive with a four-yard touchdown play.

But the 49ers couldn't sustain another drive such as that the rest of the day. Despite setting a season high for points scored, they stalled several times in the red zone and had only one other drive that gained more than 55 yards.

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The knock on Jonas Jennings when he signed that megabuck free-agent contract back in March of 2005 was that he's an injury-prone player.

He certainly hasn't shaken that rap in his first 21 games as a 49er.

Of course, Jennings has only played in seven of those 21 games. And he's only finished four of those of seven.

This time, the burly left tackle only made it six plays before coming out for the rest of the afternoon with an injury to his left wrist. That's par for the course so far with Jennings. He didn't make it through the first half of the season opener before an ankle injury forced him out of the rest of that game and then again the next week against St. Louis.

Jennings, of course, suffered a torn labrum in Week 3 of his debut season in San Francisco last year, forcing him to miss the team's final 13 games.

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Seeing Hall of Famer Dave Wilcox as San Francisco's honorary team captain on Sunday made you think how much the 49ers right now could use an outside linebacker like, well, Dave Wilcox.

Known as "The Intimidator" during his 11 seasons with the 49ers, Wilcox was a dominating force on the edge before the era of specialized play hit the NFL. An every-down bruiser who was effective against both the run and the pass, Wilcox can make a strong argument for being the best linebacker the Niners ever have had in their 61-year history.

The 49ers started two guys named Derek Smith and Manny Lawson as their outside linebackers Sunday. While both are good players, let's just say each has a way to go before they can approach the level of Dave Wilcox. At least Lawson - a much different type of player than Wilcox - had a chance to actually get there.

Smith is more of an inside linebacker who was playing on the left side - with Ulbrich in the middle - as the 49ers started the game in a 4-3 set.

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Speaking of Lawson, he's a dual-threat player who can hurt opponents in more ways than just on the defensive side of the ball.

He showed that on his game-turning blocked punt early in the second quarter, when Lawson made a quick inside move on edge blocker ReShard Lee, who whiffed on his block attempt.

Lawson then had a clear path to punter Shane Lechler, and he skillfully elongated his spidery 6-foot-5 frame and long arms perfectly in front of Lechler as the big punter put foot to football.

It was the first blocked kick in the NFL for Lawson, who had seven blocked kicks in college at North Carolina State. And it was a big one, giving the 49ers the ball at the Oakland 9-yard line and setting up the touchdown that put the Niners ahead to stay at 14-13.

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Mike Adams, who has been solid this year in coverage as the one safety the 49ers keep on the field regularly (Tony Parrish and Mark Roman split time at the other safety spot), was made to look silly by Randy Moss on Oakland's first offensive play of the second quarter.

With the Raiders throwing on first down after getting the ball deep in San Francisco territory following Stanford Routt's interception of Smith, Moss breezed off the line of scrimmage and cut toward the middle of the end zone.

Apparently, it was Adams' area to cover. But Adams hesitated as Moss slipped behind him, almost stumbled when he realized he was beaten, then was caught in no-man's land as he and everybody else watched Walter hit Moss on the hands with a perfect pass in the back of the end zone.

Adams' saving grace was that Moss simply dropped a sure touchdown catch, forcing the Raiders to ultimately settle for a field goal on a drive that started at the San Francisco 23.

Adams looked pretty bad right before halftime, too, when he missed an open-field tackle on Ronald Curry on a third-and-2 pass, allowing Curry to rumble for a 39-yard gain before Harris finally chased him down.

That allowed Moss to beat Adams yet again on slant route with 51 seconds remaining before the half, a 22-yard pass that Moss caught falling backward in the end zone that gave the Raiders a 13-7 halftime lead.

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That quick touchdown drive was set up when the 49ers stubbornly refused to attempt a field goal after reaching the Oakland 19-yard line, instead trying to go for it on fourth-and-short deep in Oakland territory for the second consecutive series.

But both series ended right there. The 49ers couldn't get the less-than-one-yard they needed on three consecutive plays over the two series. On the initial series, which got to the Oakland 9, Gore was stopped short on third down and, on fourth down, Smith plunged over the top.

On both plays, it appeared San Francisco got the necessary push to pick up the first down. But the Niners got terrible spots on both plays, and the Raiders took over.

Oakland quickly punted, giving the ball to the 49ers, who then drove to the 19 before Eric Johnson was stopped a few feet short after catching a pass on third-and-3.

So, since they just failed on two tries in a similar situation a few plays earlier, kick the field goal this time, right?

Uh, no.

Instead of putting points on the scoreboard in a game they were winning on the field, the Niners obstinately went for the first down again, this time with Michael Robinson. Once again, it appeared Robinson got the necessary yard, but another dubious spot gave the ball back to Oakland with two minutes to play, and the Raiders went 81 yards the other way in just six plays to take away the lead at halftime.

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Of course, those missed scoring opportunities - and another when Joe Nedney missed badly on a 49-yard field goal attempt on a drive that started on the Oakland 30 after Harris' second pick - ended up mattering very little in the final outcome, because the 49ers were playing a Raiders team that imploded in front of them.

But those short-yardage problems are one other thing the 49ers need to work on, because those kind of missed opportunities would have doomed them against almost any other NFL team.


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