Niners rebound while ripping rotten Raiders
Forcing five turnovers and adding a blocked punt in the final two quarters, the 49ers rallied from yet another halftime deficit to bury the Raiders 34-20 at Monster Park. The late surge provided a bright ending for the 49ers in a game between neighborhood rivals that had its share of dark moments on both sides of the ball, turning this Battle of the Bay into more of an ugly backyard brawl between struggling teams that entered the afternoon with just one win between them. "Even though the Raiders were 0-3," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said, "they are always a physically and mentally tough football team. We knew that would be the biggest challenge going into the game, and we felt the team that won that battle was going to win this game." The Raiders didn't look too mentally tough after using their physical toughness to emerge with a 13-7 halftime lead after being outplayed in the first two quarters. Oakland had a big hand in San Francisco's 27-7 second-half blitz as quarterbacks Andrew Walter and Marques Tuiasosopo each threw two interceptions, and the 49ers also got a gift touchdown on a Walter throw deep in Raiders territory that was ruled a backward lateral and promptly returned for a touchdown by San Francisco rookie defensive end Melvin Oliver. The 49ers saw this same kind of act last week. But that time, it was them imploding before a roaring crowd dressed in red during a 41-0 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. "We really wanted to come in this week and not let that happen again," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. Mission accomplished. Before an announced crowd of 68,368 dressed predominantly in San Francisco red, Smith threw a career-high three touchdown passes - the first multiple-touchdown game of his career - and the 49ers took what the Raiders gave them in the second half after failing to take advantage of scoring opportunities several times in the opening two quarters. Smith threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Arnaz Battle to culminate San Francisco's game-opening 72-yard touchdown drive, then hit Battle with a six-yard scoring pass less than three minutes into the third quarter to put the 49ers ahead to stay at 14-13. That score was set up by the first big play provided by San Francisco defenders, a blocked punt by rookie Manny Lawson that put the 49ers at the Oakland 9-yard line. It certainly wouldn't be the last. The 49ers followed that momentum-swaying play with their five-takeaway assault, which included three interceptions by veteran cornerback Walt Harris and Oliver's easy 12-yard stroll into the end zone. The latter play sealed the victory, ending a string of 24 unanswered San Francisco points that gave the 49ers a 31-13 lead with 10:30 remaining in the game. "It was an attitude thing for this whole team," said Harris, who had the first three-pick game of his football lifetime - and also opened the floodgates after the 49ers had gone 4½ games before making their first interception of 2006. "I tried to take the initiative of making a play, and it kind of had a domino effect," Harris continued. "You get one, and they seem to always come. Once you get that first pick and get that monkey of your back, things begin to roll and that's what pretty much happened today. When you get one, they always come in bunches." Harris' first pick probably was his most significant one, since it came in the end zone after the Raiders had responded to San Francisco taking the lead back at the start of the third quarter by driving 50 yards to the San Francisco 23. The 49ers took that turnover and promptly drove 80 yards, with Maurice Hicks covering the final 33 yards with a dive over the right pylon after taking a screen pass from Smith and weaving his way through traffic. "All week coach Nolan preached about being tough mentally and physically, and I feel that's what the guys came out and did today," Hicks said after scoring the first receiving touchdown of his three-year NFL career. "We played football in every aspect - on offense, defense and special teams." Harris struck again early in the third quarter, then completed his hat trick with 2:14 remaining. In between, Oliver became the first rookie defensive lineman to score a touchdown in the 49ers' 61-year history and safety Chad Williams recorded his first interception of the season, which led to a 19-yard field goal by Joe Nedney for a 24-13 lead. "You can't win in this league playing half a game," Raiders offensive tackle Robert Gallery said. "This isn't high school football. We made mistakes in all areas and it shows. It showed in the second half. It's pretty tough to win in this league playing the way we did." The 49ers could have said the same thing during a first half in which they twice were stopped cold on fourth-and-1 attempts inside the Oakland 20-yard line, coming away with zero points on those two possessions. Otherwise, the 49ers had a successful day on the ground with Frank Gore leading the way with his career-high 134 yards on 27 carries. It appeared those missed opportunities might come back to haunt San Francisco when the Raiders struck late in the second quarter to grab their halftime lead, but this time the 49ers responded against an opponent that appears to have several more problems than they do. "This game says a lot about us," Harris said. "We're a team that never gives up. We've had a lot of adversity all through the year already with bad things happening here and there. There were a lot of plays that we left out on the field, and we have to continue to improve, but this was a start in the right direction." It also moved the 49ers (2-3) out of the NFC West basement for the first time since they won their 2005 opener, giving San Francisco its second victory this early in a season for the first time since 2003.
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