49ers player notes
CB Walt Harris: The 11th-year veteran had another strong game against the Rams, and he could have taken over the NFL lead in interceptions had his second-quarter pick of Marc Bulger not been nullified by a penalty. Harris remains tied with New England's Asante Samuel, Cincinnati's Kevin Kaesviharn and Jacksonville's Rashean Mathis for the league lead with six picks. Harris was outstanding in coverage against the Rams and was second on the team with six tackles to go along with two passes defensed, which raised his team-leading season total to nine in that category. Harris also leads the team with three forced fumbles, and he could have had a fourth against the Rams if not for a questionable reversal on a replay challenge after Smith had apparently knocked the ball away from St. Louis receiver Torry Holt after a short reception. Harris picked up the fumble and returned it 50 yards for what originally was ruled a touchdown, but the play was overturned on a questionable replay decision by referee Terry McAulay and ruled an incompletion. When he wasn't busy seeing potential big plays erased, Harris did a fine job of covering one of the league's top receivers. Harris had an impressive showing against Holt, who had just four receptions for 30 yards with Harris blanketing him most of the game. Holt - who was second in the NFC in receptions entering the game - was the intended target on nine passes. "What's tough is you know he's going to catch some balls," Harris said. "As a corner, you don't want that, but you have to understand that he gets paid, too. He's a high-caliber, Pro Bowl receiver and setting records for this organization. You have to understand that he's going to make his plays. But when the opportunity arises, you have to make your plays." Harris did his part in that regard, but didn't get any help from officials. RB Frank Gore: The NFC's leading rusher, Gore ranks second in the NFL behind Kansas City's Larry Johnson with 1,177 yards on the ground - already the seventh-highest total in the franchise's 61-year history with five games still remaining in the season.. His 5.6 yards per carry is the highest of any NFL running back with more than 68 yards rushing, and it's the highest average for a 49ers leading rusher since Joe Perry finished the season at 6.1 in 1958. Gore, who had 134 yards rushing against the Rams, now has six 100-yard games this season to tie Garrison Hearst's team record set in 1998. Gore's 505 yards rushing in the past three games are the most ever for a 49er over any three-game stretch. Gore continues to lead the team with 41 receptions for 318 yards and he ranks first in the NFC and third in the NFL behind Johnson and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson with 1,495 total yards from scrimmage. Gore also is likely to be placed back on San Francisco's short-yardage package this week. He was removed from that unit after two goal-line fumbles earlier this season. Gore suffered two bruises on his left leg against the Rams, one just above his ankle and one just below the knee, but is expected to be fine to play this week against the New Orleans Saints. Gore underwent X-rays after the game and, as a precaution, took another set upon returning to San Francisco on Monday. Both were negative. RB Michael Robinson: The rookie is taking the blame for not getting the necessary yardage for a first down on the game's pivotal play in last week's 20-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Robinson was stopped an inch short of the first down on a third-and-1 play from the St. Louis 7-yard line. Instead of going for it on fourth-and-1, the 49ers kicked a short field goal to take a 17-13 lead, and the Rams came back with an 80-yard game-winning touchdown march in the final seconds. The blocking in front of Robinson was solid on the play, but he missed an opening to the left and ran right into two defenders at the line of scrimmage. "I didn't run with my eyes," Robinson said. "I got to get it. My job is in short yardage and goal line to get it. That was on me. You get do-overs in practice, but you don't get it in the game." Robinson may not get many do-overs the rest of the season as coach Mike Nolan is considering going back to Gore in short-yardage situations. Robinson has been used as the short-yardage back since the third game of the season. But since his promotion to that role, Robinson has converted just once in six tries on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1 plays. On third and fourth downs, he has rushed for a first down just once in 10 opportunities. For the season, Robinson is averaging just 2.2 yards per carry, gaining 83 yards on 37 attempts with two touchdowns. QB Alex Smith: The second-year QB had his second multi-interception game of the season against the Rams, which was one of Smith's poorer statistical games of 2006 as he finished with a passer rating of 50.1. That dropped Smith's season rating to 80.0, which has him tied for 14th in the NFL in that category with Detroit's Jon Kitna. Smith, who had a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Johnson to give the Niners their first lead against the Rams, has 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions on the season. He has been sacked 22 times in 11 games this season after being dumped 29 times last season in seven starts. Smith, who has 1,972 yards passing entering the December stretch run, hasn't thrown for more than 163 yards in a game since Oct. 15 against San Diego. The youngest starting quarterback in the NFL at age 22, Smith is one of just eight NFL quarterbacks who has taken each of his team's offensive snaps so far this season. QB Trent Dilfer: The 13th-year backup behind Smith has not played a snap this season, but he continues to fill a big role for the 49ers behind the scenes. Coach Mike Nolan said he did not think the 49ers would suffer much if Dilfer had to step in to replace Smith. LB Jeff Ulbrich: The seventh-year linebacker underwent surgery Monday to repair a tendon in his left thumb. Ulbrich, who played with the injury Sunday and finished with two tackles, is not expected to miss any playing time this week. Ulbrich, who lost his starting job on defense to Brandon Moore in Week 8, has 46 tackles this season. RB Maurice Hicks: The third-year veteran gave Gore an occasional breather last week and produced a season-high 32 yards on seven carries. He also had his longest run of the season, a 9-yarder that gave the 49ers a first down at the St. Louis 16 late in the game. Hicks moved up to fourth among the team's leading rushers with 76 yards on 23 carries. He also has 13 receptions for 137 yards, and his 33-yard touchdown catch-and-run against Oakland in Week 5 remains the only touchdown reception by a San Francisco tailback this season. FB Moran Norris: The sixth-year veteran, who has been outstanding this season as a lead blocker for Gore, has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2009 season. Norris was inactive for the first two games of the season before making his presence felt in front of Gore. Norris doesn't have a carry this season, but he has four receptions, including a touchdown catch against San Diego. WR Arnaz Battle: Playing six days after undergoing surgery to insert screws in his broken left hand, Battle again led San Francisco wideouts with three receptions against the Rams. He also handled punt-return duties for the first time since September as rookie Brandon Williams was not active for the game. Battle fumbled a punt return in the second quarter, which led directly to a Rams touchdown. "I actually caught the ball," Battle said when asked if the injury was to blame for the fumble. "It was kind of hard to put the ball away because of not having the other hand, so I guess you can say that it was a small factor. The guy made a good play and knocked it out." Battle ranks second on the team to Gore with 38 receptions for 424 yards, and his three touchdown catches leads the team. LB Manny Lawson: The rookie recorded his first NFL interception to holt St. Louis' first drive of the game, displaying his athleticism while leaping high to pull in a Marc Bulger pass intended for Torry Holt near the sideline. Lawson finished the game with three tackles and now ranks sixth on the team with 49 this season. He also has two sacks, four passes defensed, one blocked punt and leads the team with two recovered fumbles. WR Antonio Bryant: The mercurial fifth-year veteran leads the team in receiving yards with 599 on 33 receptions. Bryant has also had three long-gainers nullified this season by penalties. He has had a 52-yard TD, as well as receptions of 49 and 43 yards wiped out this season due to teammates' penalties. Against the Rams, he had a costly holding penalty that negated a long run by Frank Gore that would have given the 49ers a first-and-goal at the 9. The 49ers ended up punting on the drive after reaching the St. Louis 34. Bryant later atoned for that with receptions of 28 and 25 yards on consecutive plays to spark a quick four-play, 73-yard touchdown drive late in the second quarter. Those were his only two receptions of the game. His 18.2 average per catch ranks second in the NFL among any receiver with more than 32 receptions. Bryant has 13 receptions of 20 or more yards this season, the most of any NFL receiver with fewer than 49 receptions. WR Bryan Gilmore: The team's No. 3 receiver, Gilmore has caught just one pass in the past five games. He lost 1 yard on an end-around against the Rams - the only time he touched the ball in that game - and now has 62 yard rushing on five attempts this season. Gilmore has seven receptions for 136 yard this season, and his 19.4 average per reception leads the team. TE Vernon Davis: The rookie first-round draft pick returned to his starting role last Sunday and played 40 snaps against the Rams. Davis caught one pass for 11 yards, but failed to bring in another catchable pass. Davis, who missed six games with a broken right fibula, has six receptions for 48 yards this season. TE Eric Johnson: The sixth-year veteran went back to his backup role last week after Vernon Davis returned to the lineup and played just 17 of the team's 56 offensive snaps. Davis and Johnson were on the field for just two official plays. Johnson, however, caught three passes for 17 yards, including his second touchdown of the season, against the Rams. Johnson ranks fourth on the team with 32 catches for 282 yards. CB Shawntae Spencer: The third-year veteran did not play against the Rams due to a right ankle sprain, and his status for this week's game against the Saints is uncertain. Spencer leads the team with 50 solo tackles and is third with 58 tackles. He also has six passes defensed, one sack and one fumble recovery. CB/S Marcus Hudson: The rookie drew a delay-of-game penalty for preventing Rams running back Steven Jackson from getting up after converting a late fourth-and-one play on the game-winning drive against the Rams. Hudson said that someone had prevented him from getting off the pile, but Nolan said, "He should have gotten up. He could have gotten up." Hudson was credited with the tackle on that play - his only tackle of the game and his first on defense this season. He ranks fifth on the team with eight special teams tackles. CB Donald Strickland: After being inactive for his first three games with the team, Strickland started against the Rams in place of Spencer. He did not record any defensive statistics during the game. S Tony Parrish: The ninth-year veteran, previously a fixture in the 49ers secondary, has fallen dramatically on the team's depth chart after starting the first five games this season at strong safety. Despite being healthy to play, Parrish was inactive against the Rams for the second week in a row. Of San Francisco's nine healthy defensive backs, Parrish was the only one who didn't dress for the game. LB Derek Smith: The gritty 10th-year veteran appears to be adjusting to playing with a muscle strain that limits the vision in his left eye. Smith had six tackles against the Rams and remains the team's runaway leader in that category with 80. Smith has been San Francisco's leading tackler every season since joining the team in 2001, recording 780 total tackles between 2001-2005. DE Bryant Young: The 13th-year veteran had one solo sack and was in on another against the Rams, raising his season total to 5 and moving him half a sack behind team leader Brandon Moore. Young now ranks sixth among active NFL players with 82.5 career sacks. S Keith Lewis: The hard-hitting third-year veteran led the 49ers with a career-high nine tackles last week, the first time he ever has led the team in that category. His seven solo tackles also were a career-high. Lewis has two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery this season - each of them coming during San Francisco's victories over Detroit and Seattle in Weeks 10-11.
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