A no-brainer: Hill should start vs. Bengals

Nobody knows for sure yet if the 49ers will make Shaun Hill their starting quarterback in six days when they play host to the Cincinnati Bengals, but here's saying that decision is a no-brainer. After what he did to spark the San Francisco offense in one half Sunday against Minnesota, Hill should be given a full game to show what he can do whether Trent Dilfer and/or Alex Smith are healthy or not.

What Hill did in his first meaningful action after spending his first 5¾ NFL seasons watching from the sidelines wasn't exactly remarkable, but it did result in one of the best halves of football played by a San Francisco quarterback this season.

And it also provided the NFL's 32nd-ranked offense with quite a spark, helping the 49ers prevent a shutout in their 27-7 loss to the Vikings after they fell behind 27-0 at halftime.

In four seasons as a practically invisible reserve quarterback with Minnesota, Hill got on the field for exactly two plays, both of them kneel-downs at the end of a game. But he quickly made up for lost time when he got his opportunity against his former team.

Hill finally got his chance after the Vikings had knocked out starting quarterback Dilfer with a concussion at the end of the second quarter. And Hill immediately knew what to do with it, making some wonder why it took so long for the 49ers to give him a shot, which came only because the two QBs in front of him are hurt.

"I've been anxious for a long time," Hill said. "Obviously, with Trent getting hurt, I wasn't very happy about the circumstances. That said, I had a job to do when I got in there. I mean, it's been six years and I've taken two knees going into this game. So I was excited."

Hill provided a brief flurry of excitement for the 49ers and their otherwise booing fans, directing a 12-play, 61-yard drive that produced San Francisco's only touchdown on its first series of the second half.

Throwing the first passes of his NFL career, Hill got in a groove and ended up completing 22 of 28 for 180 yards for a 90.5 quarterback rating. His five-yard touchdown pass to Arnaz Battle midway through the third quarter prevented the 49ers from getting blanked while providing San Francisco with its only points of the afternoon.

Hill moved the San Francisco offense several times the rest of the way. But a pass that slipped out of his hand was intercepted by defensive tackle Pat Williams after the 49ers had reached the Minnesota 41-yard line late in the third quarter, and San Francisco's final drive ended at the Minnesota 33 after Hill was hit from behind by newcomer Otis Grigbsy and fumbled into the waiting arms of defensive tackle Spencer Johnson with under two minutes remaining to play.

"He did do some good things, and it didn't surprise me," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "We've seen Shaun play that way in the preseason. It didn't surprise me that he had some success. He's our guy."

Hill completed his first four passes and was 6 of 7 directing the first drive of his career. Despite the turnovers, he remained effective the rest of the way against a Minnesota defense that had hounded Dilfer into 12 incompletions in 19 attempts with an interception returned for a touchdown before he was hurt.

"Shaun kept his composure and made some critical reads like the one down there in the red zone to Arnaz," 49ers receiver Ashley Lelie said. "He didn't panic, he waited, read the coverage and found a wide-open Arnaz. That right there tells me a lot about his composure and about him being ready to play when he was called on."

Hill never got that call while playing for the Vikings from 2002-2005, but he harbors no resentment against his former team that kept him as its No. 3 quarterback for four seasons. After Daunte Culpepper was hurt in 2005, Hill moved up to No. 2 behind starter Brad Johnson, but he never got on the field when it counted.

And, Hill had to admit, his performance Sunday was just a bit more meaningful since it came against the Vikings.

"Earlier in the year, we were joking around that I had the longest tenure without throwing the ball in the history of quarterbacks," Hill said. "I have no ill will toward anybody over there. The organization is going in a different direction and I understand that. I was just happy to get the opportunity I got here with the 49ers without having any real playing experience.

"It would have been awfully nice to win the game. But I was very glad to play my first time with the 49ers, that's for sure."

His second time playing could come very quickly. Nolan said he wouldn't be making any decisions at quarterback until later in the week when Dilfer's status becomes clearer, but to be sure, Hill will be ready if he gets the starting call.

"That's what every NFL player wants," Hill said. "Everybody wants to be the starter. Every backup wants to be the starter, every third-stringer wants to move up to second string and then on up to starter. That's what we're all here to play for. We love to play and I'm no different. It's been a long time and I would be very excited about that opportunity."

And make no mistake about it: After the flurry of excitement provided by Hill on Sunday, that's one call that definitely should be made by the 49ers.



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