Niner of the Week

Arnaz Battle is SFI's first Niner of the Week in 2007 for his performance in the 49ers' season-opening 20-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Monday standout: On an evening when San Francisco's offense struggled mightily throughout the game, Battle became the hero in the final seconds with back-to-back plays that put the 49ers in the end zone for the winning touchdown, which came on Battle's 1-yard run on a well-conceived and well-executed end around with 22 seconds remaining in the game. On the preceding play, Battle made the catch of the game when he climbed into the air to reel in a 22-yard pass from Alex Smith on third-and-13 from the Arizona 23. That led to some dramatics as Arizona safety Terrence Holt, who got over late to cover Battle as he streaked down the middle, knocked the ball out of Battle's hands at the 1 just as Battle was about to lunge for the goal line. The ball fumbled into the end zone and into the hands of Arizona cornerback Eric Green, who somehow couldn't get a handle on the live pigskin as he dived on top of it. Niners receiver Darrell Jackson, trailing the play, opportunistically jumped on the loose ball and secured it for the 49ers. By NFL rule, no fumble can be advanced in the final two minutes of a game, so the 49ers got the ball back at the point of the fumble at the 1. From there, Battle came in motion from the right side on the next play as Smith took the snap with an empty backfield behind him. Battle took the ball from Smith and streaked around the left side to the corner of the end zone, which he reached untouched as Monster Park rocked with the cry of victory. It was the first rushing touchdown of Battle's five-year NFL career. Battle also was the game's leading receiver with five receptions for a game-high 60 yards, with his 22-yard catch also the game's longest. Battle also made San Francisco's first reception of the season on the team's second play from scrimmage when he hauled in a 14-yard pass from Smith, and four of his five receptions went for first downs, including two on third-and-long plays. Battle had three receptions for 36 yards on San Francisco's 12-play drive to the winning touchdown.

Season to date: Battle is tied for 28th in the NFL and 11th in the NFC in receptions after Week 1. His first-down percentage of 80 on receptions ranks fifth in the NFC among those with five or more catches. After one week, Battle leads the team in receptions and receiving yardage, is tied for second in scoring with six points, and his 61 combined yards from scrimmage account for 31 percent of the team's total offensive yardage.

Need to note: Now in his third season as a regular starter, Battle established himself as a legitimate starting wideout last season when he started 15 games and led the 49ers with a career-high 59 receptions. Battle, an All-American quarterback in high school who played that position for two seasons at Notre Dame, also had a career-high 686 yards and three receiving touchdowns last year. His 17.9-yard average on eight receptions led the team in 2004, when he also returned kickoffs and punts, averaging 8.6 yards on 31 punt returns and 19.8 on 13 kickoff returns. Battle's scoring run was the eighth touchdown of his career - six others coming on receptions and the other on a 71-yard punt return. Monday's performance was Battle's eighth career game with five or more receptions.

Battle says: "We have playmakers that can get the job done and we had time to get it done (at the end). We just needed to stick to our game plan and keep our composure. We work on two-minute offense a lot and we felt we could do a great job at it. We had opportunities, and we just kept fighting hard, went down there and made plays and got the win. We never stopped believing. We just kept fighting, kept scratching and taking what they gave us and we were going to get the ball down the field. It takes somebody to step up and make some big plays. Darrell made one. Alex made one. I get the ball across the middle, and Darrell gets it after it's popped out. It's just guys making plays to get a win. It was definitely satisfying and a blessing to get another opportunity, and coach (offensive coordinator Jim) Hostler believing in me that I was going to make that play (for the winning touchdown). And it was there. It was wide open. I'm glad coach saved it for Monday night."

Looking forward: Battle has the best rapport with Smith of any of San Francisco's wide receivers, and he figures to be a central figure in the offense and top target in the passing game throughout the season. The team's best blocking receiver, Battle also is a factor in the team's strong running game with his down-field blocks when Frank Gore and Co. spring runs into the second level. Battle, who completed his first NFL pass for 24 yards and is 2 for 3 through the air in his career, also will be used in a variety of ways on gadget plays to take advantage of his versatility. Monday's winning touchdown was a classic example.

ALSO CONSIDERED: LB Patrick Willis (game-high 15 tackles, one forced fumble, around the football all night in his NFL debut); CB Walt Harris (interception to set up a touchdown; four tackles, three passes defensed, excellent coverage in secondary)

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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