Three and Out: Brock, Wilhoite step up; 49ers offense efficient
Michael Wilhoite registered 13 tackles (tied for team-high), three tackles for loss, and a pass defended. Tramaine Brock picked off Matt Schaub twice (returned one for a touchdown) and had two passes defended. (AP)
SAN FRANCISCO – Tramaine Brock lost his job as the 49ers’ third cornerback in 2011 when Chris Culliver played well in his absence.
Now, Brock has gotten his chance to get back into a prominent role in the 49ers’ defense and he has taken full advantage of the opportunity.
Brock intercepted Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub just 90 seconds into Sunday night’s game and returned it 18 yards for his first NFL touchdown. And he added a second interception in the 49ers’ 34-3 victory at Candlestick Park.
“It was huge,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Brock's touchdown. “It was a great way to start the game.”
Brock and inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite, in particular, stepped into larger roles in the nationally televised game and delivered in a big way. Wilhoite got the starting assignment when Patrick Willis was ruled out with a groin injury. Wilhoite responded with 11 tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage.
“Everybody on this team, from the starters to the special-teams guys to the practice-squad guys, everybody wants to shine,” Brock said. “Everybody wants to play and make plays, so when it’s our time, we all just try to make plays and show the other guys and the coaches that we can do it.”
Now, there seems to be a strong chance Brock will remain as the 49ers’ third cornerback even after Nnamdi Asomugha is available to return. Asomugha sat out his second straight game with a knee injury.
Culliver, the 49ers’ third cornerback who held onto the job for the remainder of 2011 and all of last season after replacing Brock, is out for the season with a torn ACL he sustained in training camp.
Brock, who is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season, has stated his case through two strong performances against the St. Louis Rams and against the Texans.
“I’m just out here playing and I just want to make plays for the team and for myself,” Brock said. “That’s up to the coaches and the organization.”
He peeled off from Texans wide receiver Keshawn Martin to step in front of Andre Johnson to pick off the pass to provide a game-changing play early in the contest. It was the fourth consecutive game Schaub has had an interception returned for a touchdown.
"We had a play where I liked Andre's little out route inside, and the corner fell off Keshawn and jumped the route," Schaub said. "He made a good play."
Throughout the week, the 49ers believed there was a strong chance Willis would be available. But after he worked out on the field for head trainer Jeff Ferguson and head strength and conditioning coach Mark Uyeyama, the decision was made to sit him out.
“He was really trying to (play), really eager to,” Harbaugh said of Willis. “We just made the decision, realy right before game time, that it was best not to play. (We) didn’t want to do anything stupid.”
Less than an hour before game time, Wilhoite figured he would be backing up Willis. Then, Willis walked past him in the locker room as the team was preparing to head onto the field for warmups.
“He pointed at me and said, ‘It’s you,’” Wilhoite said. “I took off my headphones and he said, ‘I can’t do that to you or the team. I can’t be selfish. I want you go out and have a good game.”
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman had another strong game with 13 tackles, as the 49ers gave up 313 yards of total offense but forced four turnovers to repeatedly thwart Houston scoring chances.
The 49ers have played the past two weeks without All-Pros Willis and Aldon Smith, who took a voluntary leave of absence to seek in-patient treatment for substance abuse.
“We’re still overcoming a lot of adversity,” Bowman said. “People think that we’re so good that it’s hard for them to see that. We know what’s going on, what we’re doing, who’s stepping up, how hard we’re playing, how focused we are, how prepared we are. It’s getting us back on track.”
The 49ers on Sunday played more than a quarter without defensive lineman Ray McDonald, who sustained a right biceps injury. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday.
In keeping with the theme of the past two weeks, reserve lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie entered the game and intercepted a pass in the third quarter.
The 49ers cashed in on all of the Texans’ miscues as their four turnovers and a missed field goal led directly to 31 points.