Niners beginning to take shape

The 49ers, as interim coach Mike Singletary sees it, are beginning to take shape. The 49ers played their most impressive game in several seasons on Sunday with a 24-14 victory over the New York Jets. The 49ers controlled the game from start to finish.

Singletary said he liked the defensive effort. The 49ers held Jets quarterback Brett Favre to a season-low 137 yards passing.

"I felt like there was so much energy," Singletary said. "Guys were running to the ball, making plays. It was just what you wanted it to look like - guys playing with passion and hustle."

But Singletary is quick to point out that it was not a perfect game, either. The 49ers committed five fumbles, but had only one giveaway in the game. Left tackle Joe Staley recovered one of the 49ers' fumbles in the end zone for a touchdown.

"I think there are a lot of things that we can do better," Singletary said. "The physicality part I think we are scratching on the surface of it. Ball security, I think we are scratching on the surface of it, for sure. "We're doing the things right now that you have to do in the game. We're doing things right now that football is about. It's Football 101. Being physical, playing with emotion, playing with passion, playing with all those things."

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Singletary and interim starting quarterback Shaun Hill are both building convincing cases to get the permanent jobs for the 49ers. But neither is looking into the future.

Singletary said he is just taking it one game at a time, and does not want to approach the rest of the season as if it's a job audition. Still, it is pretty clear he is having a major impact.

"I won't say that it's my team," Singletary said. "I won't say that it's becoming my team, because I'm really trying to help it become the players' team. We've been trying to find out for a while what is our identity.

"I think it's very important that the players take that and they make the decision of who are we? What are we trying to do? What statement are we trying to make?"

The 49ers enter their game Sunday against Miami riding a two-game winning streak after consecutive victories against AFC East teams Buffalo and the Jets.

The victory over the Jets was particularly impressive, as Hill clearly outplayed Brett Favre. Hill threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns.

"I think it was a big step for myself and this team," Hill said. "For this team, this win is huge -- to beat an opponent like this and go back-to-back and get victories against two good teams. This is really big for our program."

The 49ers might have to play the Dolphins without the player generally seen as their best offensive player.

Running back Frank Gore, who grew up in Miami, is looking forward to a return trip home. However, he sustained a left ankle sprain early in the second half against the Jets and did not return to the game.

Gore's injury occurred after he had 52 yards rushing and was just 22 yards from eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the third consecutive season. He is on the verge of becoming the first player in franchise history to accomplish that feat.

"I want to go to Miami, get 1,000 yards, get a victory, and bring it back for our fans on the West Coast," he said.

The 49ers managed to score 10 fourth-quarter points against the Jets without Gore on the field. Hill enters the game against the Dolphins with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions in five starts. His passer rating is 95.5.

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Left tackle Joe Staley scored a touchdown when he recovered a fumble in the end zone, but he gave one back later in the game when his holding penalty nullified Delanie Walker's 28-yard scoring reception.

"I'm (upset) about that," Staley said. "Offensive linemen use our hands a lot. That was something where it was probably the right call. I had my hands on the outside. Fortunately, Shaun (Hill) got us out of that and we were able to get a field goal on that drive."

That play is easily forgotten - especially after Staley scored the first touchdown of the game when he covered up receiver Jason Hill's fumble in the end zone.

"We're always told to get downfield once the ball is thrown," Staley said. "You never know what's going to happen. I was sprinting toward the receiver and saw the ball fly out. I jumped on it, and when I was down under the pile I knew I had it. I was so excited."

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Offensive coordinator Mike Martz last week called Eric Heitmann the best center he has coached in 17 NFL seasons. Heitmann said those words did not place more pressure on him when he faced Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins. It served as motivation.

Heitmann more than held his own against Jenkins, who was held to just one tackle in the game. He benefited from right guard Chilo Rachal lending some assistance from time to time.

"He's so big, you're not going to move him head-on, one on one," Rachal said. "That was our strategy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This shows that we have enough talent on this team to be very successful. The frustrating thing is that we weren't able to start the season the way we wanted. But it's very exciting to have the chance to finish strong in these final three games." -- 49ers left tackle Joe Staley, on the team's two-game win streak.

UNDER THE RADAR: First-year wide receiver Dominique Zeigler spent the better part of two full seasons on the 49ers' practice squad. Since his promotion to the active roster, he has assumed the role as the No. 4 wideout. He has done a commendable job with five receptions for 97 yards. He had 44 receiving yards against the Jets.

PLAYER NOTES

--- TE Vernon Davis got rave reviews from coach Mike Singletary for his blocking against the Jets. "I don't know if there's ever been a tight end that can block better than Vernon Davis," Singletary said. "He did an exceptional job. It was outstanding."

--- OLB Parys Haralson has recorded 31/2 sacks in the past three games to bump his season total to seven. It's the most sacks for a 49ers player since Bryant Young recorded eight in 2005.

--- WR Isaac Bruce has taken over the team lead with 45 receptions for the season. Bruce has 695 receiving yards with six touchdowns. Over the past three games, Bruce has become a bigger part of the offense with 19 catches for 262 yards and two touchdowns.

--- RB Frank Gore is questionable for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins with a left ankle sprain. Gore ranks fifth in the NFL with 1,345 yards from scrimmage on the season. Gore has accounted for 33 percent of the 49ers' total offense this season.

--- QB Shaun Hill has improved his record to 5-2 for his career and is the only quarterback since Steve Young retired to have a winning mark with the 49ers. Hill does not have enough passing attempts to qualify among the leaders, but his 95.5 passer rating would be fifth best in the league.

--- CB Nate Clements' status for Sunday's game against the Dolphins is questionable. Clements missed Sunday's game with a broken right thumb. It broke a streak of 124 consecutive games played, with 116 straight starts. Both streaks ranked second behind Tampa Bay CB Ronde Barber, who has played 173 consecutive games with 148 starts.

--- TE Billy Bajema, a blocking specialist, broke a streak of 47 consecutive games without a reception when he caught a 5-yard throw from Shaun Hill to help set up a fourth-quarter touchdown Sunday against the Jets.

--- LT Joe Staley scored his first career touchdown when he recovered a fumble in the end zone in the first quarter. It was Staley's first touchdown since he caught a scoring pass as a freshman tight end at Central Michigan. He was converted to offensive tackle as a sophomore.

REPORT CARD VS. JETS

PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Shaun Hill played another outstanding game. He completed 28 of 39 passes for 285 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating was 98.8. Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson caught six passes apiece, as Hill used 10 different receivers. Jason Hill caught four passes, including some key third-down receptions. Seldom-used Dominique Zeigler had a 31-yard reception. The offensive line provided good protection for Hill, who was sacked twice for just 10 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The 49ers rushed the ball 33 times in the game. They managed just 100 yards, but the run game was effective in a lot of ways. The 49ers had six first downs rushing and their commitment to the run made it possible for Shaun Hill to use play-action to buy time and set up screen passes. Michael Robinson lost a fumble that killed the 49ers' first drive. Frank Gore gained 52 yards on 14 carries before leaving early in the second half with an ankle sprain. The 49ers run game helped the 49ers control the ball for nearly 40 minutes of the game.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- The 49ers held Brett Favre in check with a season-low 137 yards passing. The 49ers also sacked him three times for minus-14 yards. Cornerbacks Walt Harris, Donald Strickland and Tarell Brown played very well. The Jets' starting receivers, Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, combined for just two catches for 15 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Although the Jets averaged 4.9 yards per rushing attempt, they had just 59 yards rushing in the game. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin had a strong game in the middle of the line with four tackles. The 49ers stopped the Jets on a third-and-1 running play early in the game when Takeo Spikes, Ray McDonald and Walt Harris stacked things up at the line of scrimmage. Thomas Jones had a 17-yard run in the third quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- The 49ers opened the game with a failed onside kick to open the game. Punter Andy Lee had another strong game with a 41.0 net average on four punts. Arnaz Battle, filling in on punt returns for Allen Rossum and Nate Clements, had a 4.3-yard average on four returns and had a fumble that was recovered by teammate Reggie Smith. Kicker Joe Nedney made a 32-yard field goal.

COACHING: A -- The game plans were solid on both sides of the ball. Coach Mike Singletary has clearly had a positive influence on offensive coordinator Mike Martz, and Martz called a masterful game against the Jets. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky did not call a lot of pressures against Favre, but he schemed it up so that pass-rushers were coming free on a variety of different looks. Singletary has the 49ers playing very well in recent weeks.


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