Niners notebook

The 49ers had plenty of reasons to celebrate an emotional 37-31 overtime victory against the Arizona Cardinals, but quarterback Trent Dilfer did his best to keep everything in proper perspective.

"I'm excited," he 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."

But this obviously was a game that the players and coaches needed. It came after the 49ers began the season with such high hopes. Those hopes soured during an eight-game losing streak, a time in which the struggles of the offense had prevented the 49ers from realizing their expectations of advancing to the playoffs.

"The wins are a lot sweeter when you lose eight games in a row," said Tully Banta-Cain, who recovered a fumble in the end zone for the winning points in overtime.

"That felt like the NFC championship. You could've sworn we just won the Super Bowl the way we were celebrating."

The victory might have been especially gratifying to coach Mike Nolan, who had taken a spot on the hot seat. Last week, team owner Denise DeBartolo York said she expected Nolan to return as head coach but he likely would be stripped of his personnel powers.

"It was a good team win in all three phases," Nolan said. "The last eight weeks have been especially difficult on everyone."

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In scoring 37 points Sunday against the Cardinals, the 49ers put up more points than in their previous four games combined.

The 49ers had lost eight consecutive games. The most recent four losses were against the New Orleans Saints (31-10), Atlanta Falcons (20-16), Seattle Seahawks (24-0) and the St. Louis Rams (13-9).

The 49ers snapped their streak of 11 consecutive quarters without a touchdown.

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OLB Tully Banta-Cain made NFL history Sunday, becoming the third player in NFL history to end an overtime with a fumble recovery, according to the NFL. But this is the first time a player has recovered a fumble in the end zone to end an overtime game.

The other fumbles to end games were returned for touchdowns. Johnie Cooks of the Baltimore Colts returned a fumble 52 yards for a game-winning touchdown in 1983, while the Denver Broncos' Glenn Cadrez had a 37-yard fumble return in 1999.

It was Banta-Cain's first career touchdown, and it supplied the winning points in the 49ers' 37-31 emotional victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

The ball was safely tucked into Banta-Cain's locker for the trip back home. And he did not plan on letting it leave his grasp.

"I'm probably going to carry it all the way home," he said.

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The 49ers announced Tuesday a change to their eight-man practice squad. The 49ers waived TE Zac Alcorn from the practice squad and signed CB Markus Curry to the practice squad.

Curry (5-11, 181) signed with the 49ers right before the start of training camp this past summer but was waived prior to the start of the regular season.

Curry spent time between the San Diego Chargers active roster and practice squad in 2005 and 2006 after being signed by the team as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan in 2005.

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When RB Frank Gore went down along the 49ers sideline after an 11-yard gain on a screen pass, it did not look good.

"How he (Cardinals S Oliver Celestin) rolled me up, I thought I broke it," Gore said.

"I got on the headset and said, 'It doesn't look like you're going to get Frank back,'" Nolan said. "About a series later, I looked out there and, son of a gun, he was out there."

Gore turned in his best performance of the season. He rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, and he caught 11 passes for 98 yards in a courageous performance. Gore gave the 49ers a 31-28 lead with 1:15 remaining in regulation on a 35-yard scoring run through the right side.

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--- LB Patrick Willis was credited unofficially with 18 tackles, but none was bigger than a play in overtime in which he ran down Cardinals WR Sean Morey 62 yards down the field to prevent a game-ending touchdown. The play led to Neil Rackers' missed field goal, which kept the game alive for a 49ers victory.
--- RB Frank Gore accounted for 214 total yards and two touchdowns in his best performance of the season. Gore's two touchdowns broke a scoring drought that had reached eight games.
--- QB Trent Dilfer has played the best two games that coach Mike Nolan has seen from a quarterback during his three years with the 49ers, Nolan said. Dilfer has played those games in back-to-back weeks. Dilfer completed 25 of 39 passes for 256 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
--- CB Donald Strickland, pressed into service after a couple of injuries, made one of the defensive plays of the game when he broke up a pass to Cardinals WR Bryant Johnson with two seconds remaining in regulation. The Cardinals needed a touchdown for the win. They settled for a field goal that sent the game to overtime. The play in the end zone came one play after Johnson beat Strickland for a 30-yard completion to the 1-yard line.
--- P Andy Lee continued his strong season against the Cardinals. For the year, Lee has attempted an NFL-high 74 punts. He has a 49.6-yard average with a 43.1 net. No punter in NFL history has gone an entire season with a net average of more than 40.

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