49ers notebook: Character holds team together

Coach Mike Nolan said he is not worried about the 49ers beginning to splinter after a 2-5 start because of the quality of character he has assembled on the team. The 49ers came apart on Sunday in a 31-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Some players clearly lost their composure. There were a couple thrown helmets on the sideline and kicker Joe Nedney gave the fans an obscene gesture.

"I don't construe those actions as quitting," Nolan said. "We have too much character on this football team. Our issue is poor performance. And we need to pick that up."

Nolan defended his decision to keep quarterback Alex Smith in the game. Smith returned to the lineup after missing two starts with a separated right throwing shoulder. Smith did not throw the ball accurately. He was in obvious pain after enduring several hits from the Saints defense.

Nolan said he didn't remove Smith from the game because Smith did not want to come out. Also, the team's medical staff said that Smith would not be risking further injury by continuing to play. It became a matter of pain tolerance.

"If it were for medical reasons, the doctors would've taken him out of the game," Nolan said.

Nolan said the pain Smith was experiencing did not affect his performance. "Was he accurate? No," Nolan said. "Was it only after he took some hits? No. He threw some (inaccurate) balls early in the game before (he) got hit."

Smith said he is certain he'll be able to play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, though Nolan said he could not make that call until he receives injury updates from the team's medical staff.

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For the second consecutive week, the 49ers have re-signed linebacker Hannibal Navies after waiving him over the weekend to elevate fullback Zak Keasey from the practice squad.

Navies played in San Francisco's first five games this season with two starts, taking over for Manny Lawson at outside linebacker when Lawson was lost for the season after two games with ligament damage in his knee. Navies has nine tackles, one sack and one forced fumble on the season.

Navies was waived by the 49ers last Saturday, just as he had been waived by the team the Saturday before its Oct. 21 game against the New York Giants. Navies then was re-signed last Monday before being waived again five days later. Keasey also was signed from the practice squad the first time Navies was released Oct. 20.

Keasey has spent parts of the last two seasons on San Francisco's practice squad. He was signed to the 49ers 53-man roster from the practice squad on September 21 of this season after Lawson was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Keasey saw action in Week 3 at Pittsburgh, Week 4 against Seattle and then the past two weeks after the 49ers returned from their bye week.

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Kicker Joe Nedney, an 11-year veteran, apologized for an obscene gesture he made to fans sitting behind the 49ers bench after a third-quarter kickoff went out of bounds against the Saints. Nedney's gesture with his middle finger was caught on the TV broadcast. "I apologize for my gesture at (Sunday's) game," Nedney said. "It is tough to be part of a loss and my emotions got the best of me. I know losing is tough for the fans, too. Nobody is harder on ourselves than our own team. It was an emotional response and, again, I apologize."

Last year, Michael Vick was fined $10,000 for flipping the bird to fans attending an Atlanta Falcons game.

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Running back Frank Gore rushed for 41 yards on 12 carries against the Saints with his longest run going nine years, breaking an NFL-best streak of 25 consecutive games with at least one carry of 10 or more yards. Gore played with a right ankle sprain he originally sustained last week against the New York Giants.

At one point when he aggravated the injury on Sunday, he came to the sideline and threw his helmet to the ground. Gore later re-entered the game. "This ain't no time to rest it," he said.

Quarterback Alex Smith felt a lot better Monday morning when he returned to work. Smith was in extreme discomfort Sunday in the loss to the Saints, but he took every snap. Smith finished with 22 completions in 43 attempts for 190 yards. Nine of Smith's completions and 74 of his yards came on the final drive of the game.

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Wide receiver Jason Hill, a rookie, made his NFL debut against New Orleans. He played nine snaps and had one catch for six yards. He also made a tackle on special teams. "He did show some promise," Nolan said. "Even when he didn't get the ball, he ran some good routes."

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Linebacker Patrick Willis recorded a game-high 10 tackles against the Saints. Willis entered the game with 82 tackles for the season, according to the coaches' film review of their first six games. Willis currently ranks second in the NFL with 73 tackles to Tampa Bay's Barrett Ruud, who has 78 in eight games.

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Punter Andy Lee ranks third in the NFL with a 49.9 average on his league-leading 48 punts. His net average of 43.4 is tied for best in the league with the Raiders' Shane Lechler. Lee also leads the league with 12 punts inside the 20-yard line.

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