49ers replay: Happy ending to wicked week

The 49ers celebrated their overtime victory over the Arizona Cardinals with a raucous locker room party. The victory ended an eight-game losing streak and provided the 49ers with a rare good moment in what had quickly become a lost season. But quarterback Trent Dilfer tried as best he could to quickly shift the focus and keep things in perspective.

After all, now the 49ers have to travel across the country to face the Carolina Panthers.

"I'm excited," Dilfer said. "We needed this desperately, but in the big scheme of things, it's one football game. My expectations haven't changed. I expect to get better, play better next week, and give my team a chance to win next week, too."

Dilfer will be the 49ers' quarterback Sunday against the Panthers. There appears to be a good chance he'll hold that title for the remainder of the season, as Alex Smith is still bothered by lingering shoulder and forearm problems.

Smith last week visited renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews. It was advised that Smith sit out two weeks to rest. Then, his condition would be re-evaluated.

Smith's injury has been one of several issues with which coach Mike Nolan has been forced to deal in the past weeks. Aside from coping with the death of his father, Dick Nolan, there have been all kinds of issues surrounding his football team.

Nolan and Smith have not seen eye-to-eye. Smith was upset with the way Nolan handled his injury. Nolan repeatedly told the media that Smith's health was fine, and that he had no excuses for his poor play.

Niners owner Denise DeBartolo York made a rare public comment with a back-handed vote of confidence for Nolan. She said she expected Nolan to return as coach, but she said she thought it was likely that he would be stripped of his personnel powers.

Amid the 49ers' offensive woes, Nolan hired longtime coach Ted Tollner to help offensive coordinator Jim Hostler. Coincidence or not, the arrival of Tollner coincided with the arrival of a decent offensive performance.

The 49ers gained a season-high 374 yards in the 37-31 overtime victory over the Cardinals. Nolan said he likes to think that Tollner had something to do with the improvement, though Dilfer seemed skeptical.

"I didn't sense any difference in the play-calling," Dilfer said. "For once, we executed what Jim called a little bit better."

But tight end Vernon Davis said there was a different feel for the game against the Cardinals.

"It seemed different," he said. "The intensity level was different. It was good play-calling. It was great. I think they did a great job of play-calling. It was set up to get guys open and open things up."

The 49ers will make their first trip to Charlotte, N.C., since the breakup of the old NFC West after the 2001 season.

PLAYER NOTES
--- RB Frank Gore said he thought he broke his ankle when he went down in the first quarter. But Gore returned to action and had his best game of the season. He rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries and also caught 11 passes for 98 yards against the Arizona Cardinals.
--- QB Alex Smith did not suit up for the game. He will not play next week against the Carolina Panthers, either. He will be re-evaluated next week to determine if his shoulder and forearm injuries will keep him out even longer.
--- QB Trent Dilfer made his fourth start of the season and he came through with his best performance. Dilfer completed 25 of 39 passes for 256 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Arizona Cardinals. His passer rating was a season-best 99.9.
--- TE Vernon Davis caught six passes for 45 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers' overtime victory over the Cardinals. Davis has turned into the team's first option in the passing game.
--- LB Patrick Willis recorded a game-high 18 tackles. He also had a quarterback hurry and a pass defensed.
--- CB Walt Harris, who led the NFC with eight interceptions last season, recorded two interceptions against the Cardinals' Kurt Warner. He has three interceptions for the season, all of which have come against the Cardinals.


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