Clements a little 'off' in coverage on corner

The 49ers invested big money in cornerback Nate Clements in hopes he would be able to hold his own in single coverage against some of the top receivers in the NFL. Clements drew such an assignment Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, but the results were something shy of satisfactory in the 49ers' 35-22 loss Texas Stadium.

Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens, matched primarily against Clements' "off" coverage, had the second-most receiving yards of his career with seven catches for 213 yards and a touchdown. Yet, 49ers interim coach Mike Singletary said this was an assignment that Clements was fully capable of winning.

It was a disappointing performance for Clements, who generally is assigned the opposition's top receiver. That is the kind of responsibility given to the man who signed a seven-year, $64 million contract on the first day of 2007 free agency.

"Nate can cover 'T.O.' but he didn't do that (Sunday)," Singletary said. "He is better than what he played. I will not say Nate can't cover that guy. He can cover that guy all over the field. Nate is a man and a professional. He will recover and bounce back from (Sunday)."

Clements admitted all of Owens' big plays came when he gave Owens a cushion at the line of scrimmage. But he said the play call often dictated that he not play bump-and-run coverage.

"I gave up a couple big plays," Clements said. "He got off (Sunday). I'm not taking anything away from him. I have confidence in what I can do against anybody. I'm going to make the corrections, and I'm going to be back at it. ... My mindset is I'm down overall, how the season's gone. I'm frustrated. But I'm confident in my abilities and in myself and my teammates."

It wasn't the first time Clements has struggled this season. He has been beaten for deep passes down the field several times, but on some of those occasions he was supposed to have safety help over the top.

Regardless, he has not performed at the same level as last season, when he clearly was one of San Francisco's best players and was named a Pro Bowl alternate.

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It truly was a rough day for Clements against Owens and the Cowboys, but Clements also delivered some of the 49ers' hardest hits of the season.

Clements came up in run support to upend running back Marion Barber on one play. Later in the third quarter, he delivered a huge hit on unsuspecting tight end Jason Witten, who had just gotten his hands on a downfield pass from Tony Romo.

Clements also delivered a decleating blow to Cowboys rookie Orlando Scandrick on a punt.

Hitting has never been Clements' problem. But his coverage lately could use a little work.

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Although it might have looked like an interception and felt like an interception, linebacker Manny Lawson's interception against the Cowboys was not an interception at all.

It was actually a fumble recovery.

Referee Mike Carey initially ruled the third-quarter play as an incomplete pass. The 49ers challenged the play, and Carey proved to be wrong on two fronts.

First, it was a lateral. Second, Lawson secured the ball, which ricocheted off running back Tashard Choice, before it touched the ground. Because it was a backward pass, Lawson was credited with a fumble recovery.

It was the first time this season in seven tries that the 49ers have won a replay challenge.

"I had the running back man-to-man regardless," Lawson said. "I went out with him prepared to make the tackle, and I saw he fumbled the ball and I just got it before it hit the ground. I got up and ran to coach and told him to challenge it."

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It was a quiet game for the man who did not cover Terrell Owens. Niners cornerback Walt Harris kept Cowboys receiver Roy Williams in check for the second time this season.

Williams had three receptions for 36 yards. Earlier this season, Harris matched up with Williams, while he was playing for the Detroit Lions, and held him to two catches for 18 yards.

As well as he played, Harris was left wondering if he could have done more.

"After your team loses, you always wonder if you could've done more," Harris said. "You want to go out every week and play aggressive football and make some kind of game-changing play. For me, it was pretty much a quiet game."

Harris recorded two tackles in the game.


--- RB DeShaun Foster has not gotten much action as Frank Gore's backup this season. But Foster scored his first touchdown of the season when he caught a 9-yard pass from Shaun Hill late in the game. It was the only touch of the game for Foster.

--- TE Delanie Walker added kickoff return to his duties after Allen Rossum went down with an ankle sprain in the second quarter. Walker averaged 22.4 yards on five kickoff returns, including a 35-yarder. Walker played sparingly on offense and did not catch a pass. He was returning to the lineup after missing one game with a shoulder sprain.

--- WR Jason Hill, who has taken over as the slot receiver because of Arnaz Battle's foot injury, had a quiet game. After catching nine passes for 115 yards in that role, Hill was held to just one reception for 22 yards against the Cowboys.

--- G Chilo Rachal, a rookie, made his first career start. He took over at right guard for Tony Wragge, who started the first 10 games of the season. Rachal, working mostly against Tank Johnson and Marcus Spears, did not play well, coach Mike Singletary said. But Rachal will remain the starter, and Singletary promised he would play better Sunday against Buffalo.

--- WR Josh Morgan, who had worked his way into the starting lineup, missed his second game with a severe groin strain that is likely to keep him out of action for at least another week.


PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Shaun Hill threw for a career-high 303 yards, but 112 of them came in the fourth quarter when the 49ers were hopelessly behind in the game. When it mattered, the 49ers were unable to produce. Through three quarters, Hill completed just one of seven passing attempts inside the red zone for 1 yard with one interception. One bright spot was the re-emergence of veteran receiver Isaac Bruce, who caught a season-best eight passes for 125 yards and a touchdown.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Frank Gore and the 49ers' offensive line were unable to get anything going against the Cowboys' front seven. Gore gained just 26 yards on 14 carries. When the 49ers got to the Dallas 4-yard line twice in the first quarter, Gore carried twice on second-down plays. Those two plays were stuffed for no gain and a loss of 1 yard.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- The 49ers surrendered 341 yards passing to Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, with nearly two-thirds of those yards coming from receiver Terrell Owens. Niners cornerback Nate Clements gave up a 75-yard touchdown pass to Owens. But Clements was not alone. Linebacker Parys Haralson failed to sack Romo on a blitz up the middle, allowing the quarterback to keep the play alive and make the strike down the field. The 49ers' pass rush did not do any favors for the secondary. The bright spot was linebacker Manny Lawson, who recorded one sack, battled down a pass, and intercepted a lateral on a play in which he was covering running back Tashard Choice.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The 49ers really did a nice job against Cowboys running back Marion Barber, who managed just 59 yards on 19 carries. Only three of the Cowboys' 16 first downs came on the ground. Linebackers Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis combined for 16 tackles, and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin had one of his better games with five stops.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Any time a team gives up points in the kicking game, it's not good. That's what happened Sunday when the Cowboys' Carlos Polk blocked an Andy Lee punt out of the back of the end zone in the second quarter. The play extended the Cowboys' lead to 9-6. Joe Nedney made three of four field-goal attempts. After missing from 53, he connected on kicks of 23, 22 and 35 yards.

COACHING: C-minus -- There were questions about how the 49ers operated on both sides of the ball. Owens has struggled in press coverage, but Clements gave him a large cushion on the plays in which Owens was able to get down the field for big plays. Offensively, coordinator Mike Martz did not push the right buttons when the 49ers got to the Cowboys' 4-yard line on back-to-back possessions. In both instances, Martz called plays of pass-run-pass. That sequence failed both times, forcing the 49ers to settle for two field goals instead of two touchdowns.

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