Niner of the Week
Sunday standout: Harris had perhaps his best game of a season that has featured several standout performances by the 11th-year veteran, intercepting two passes, recording four passes defensed, making four tackles and also recovering a fumble to account for all three of Denver's turnovers. Harris' second interception was the play of the game and also the turning point in San Francisco's victory as he stepped in front of a Jay Cutler pass midway through the third quarter, made the pick in front of tight end Stephen Alexander, then returned it 28 yards untouched into the end zone for a touchdown that gave the 49ers their first lead at 17-13. Harris' first interception came midway through the second quarter when - despite bumping bodies with Denver receiver Javon Walker - he kept his concentration and snagged a deep pass from Jake Plummer, who was in the game temporarily in place of a shaken-up Cutler. Harris returned that pick 42 yards, weaving through Denver offensive players before finally being brought down. Harris' fumble early in the fourth quarter was a heads-up play by Harris in which he scooped the ball off the ground well after Denver running back Tatum Bell had fumbled, with several players and officials standing around not sure if the play was still alive or not. It was, and Harris had his team-high 10th takeaway of the season. Harris also had a key pass breakup midway through the fourth quarter when he knocked away a third-and-7 pass from Cutler intended for Rod Smith. The Broncos then had to punt from their 9-yard line, allowing the 49ers to turn their next offensive possession into a field goal that gave them a 23-16 lead with 6:18 remaining in regulation. Season to date: Harris finished 2006 with one of the finest season of any NFL cornerback. He led the NFC and finished tied for third in the NFL with a career-high eight interceptions, and he also led the 49ers this season with 17 passes defensed and five forced fumbles. Harris was second on the team with two fumble recoveries, seventh with 72 tackles and also recorded just the second sack of his career. The Denver game was the third time this season Harris had multiple interceptions, following his two interceptions against Seattle on Nov. 19 and his career-high three-pick day against Oakland on Oct. 8. Harris was honored as SFI's Niner of the Week for the first time after the Oakland game. Harris (twice) joins linebacker Brandon Moore (twice), quarterback Alex Smith (three times) and running back Frank Gore (five times) as multiple winners of the accolade this season. Harris had four or more solo tackles in nine games this season and had at least three total tackles in every game he played. Harris' 84 yards in interception returns this season also is a team and career high. Need to note: Harris was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his performance in Denver, the first time he ever has won a weekly NFL honor during his career. He also was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November after his strong play contributed to the 49ers going 3-1 during that month. Harris' eight interceptions - which matched his combined total over the previous six seasons - were the second-most by a 49er in the past 20 seasons, trailing only Tony Parrish, who had nine to lead the NFL in 2003. Those eight picks also are the most by a San Francisco cornerback since Kermit Alexander had nine in 1968. Lowell Wagner, who had nine interceptions in 1951, is the only other cornerback in San Francisco history to have more picks in a season than Harris. Harris, who never has played in the Pro Bowl, was named a first alternate for the NFC in this year's game, which will be played February in Hawaii. Signed to a two-year contract as an unrestricted free agent in March, Harris' first season with the 49ers ended with him being named co-winner of the Bill Walsh Award along with running back Frank Gore. That honor goes to the team MVP as selected by San Francisco coaches. Harris says: "Just being able to help the team win, really, that's my motivation right now. Whenever I can perform well, whenever I can do things - intercept balls and kind of play within the scheme of the defense and whatever tasks they ask me to do - that's definitely very fulfilling to me. I achieved some goals I really wanted to achieve this year. I just wanted to perform well. I wanted to have a great overall season from start to finish. Going in, I didn't want to have any lapses - ups and downs - I really wanted to be consistent. Consistency is always the key with me. I definitely wanted to finish well, and to be able to have a game like I had (against Denver) was definitely fulfilling to me." Looking forward: Harris, who turns 33 in August, will return for his 12th NFL season this year as San Francisco's No. 1 cornerback, though the 49ers are sure to bring in some fresh talent to challenge both Harris and Shawntae Spencer for the starting corner positions. But nobody expects Harris to budge from the starting lineup after the season he just had, and Harris feels he can continue to play at or above the same level next season. But next season will have to wait until after February, when Harris hopes to make a well-deserved first appearance in the Pro Bowl. He's currently the NFC's first alternate at cornerback behind starters Ronde Barber of Tampa Bay, DeAngelo Hall of Atlanta and reserve Lito Sheppard of Philadelphia, but Harris still could get a bid to the game if either of those players are injured (Sheppard still is participating in the playoffs with the Eagles) or pulls out of the game for any reason. "I don't think any of those guys that are there have been hurt," Harris said. "It takes time (to get to the Pro Bowl), and if it happens, it does. And if not, then we'll just try to look forward to next year and hopefully we can make it a little more convincing." ALSO CONSIDERED: K Joe Nedney (field goals made from 46, 46 and 29 yards before making a 36-yarder to win game in overtime, also had three touchbacks and sent five kickoffs into end zone); RB Frank Gore (game-high 153 yards rushing on career-high 31 carries, two receptions for 32 yards); LB Brandon Moore (game-high 10 tackles, several key stops, good pressure on blitzes). COMPLETE 2006 NOTW LIST: Week 1: RB Frank Gore. Week 2: WR Antonio Bryant. Week 3: QB Alex Smith. Week 4: DE Marques Douglas. Week 5: CB Walt Harris. Week 6: QB Alex Smith. Week 7: No selection (49ers bye week). Week 8: RB Frank Gore. Week 9: LB Brandon Moore. Week 10: RB Frank Gore. Week 11: RB Frank Gore. Week 12: RB Frank Gore. Week 13: P Andy Lee. Week 14: TE Vernon Davis. Week 15: QB Alex Smith. Week 16: LB Brandon Moore. Week 17: CB Walt Harris.
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