Backups lead the way for 49ers

Backups lead the way for 49ers
September 26, 2011, 2:39 pm
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CINCINNATI -- The 49ers won a rare road game Sunday that wasn't exactly an aesthetic masterpiece. But a win is a win. And they did it with their supporting cast playing a significant role."Nobody," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said, "is going in the game with their head down saying, 'Oh, man, I'm not a starter.' All it takes is one play, and you have to be out there and your teammates and the coaches expect you to play to the standards of a starter."And that's what happened in the 49ers' 13-8 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.Receiver Braylon Edwards and fullback Moran Norris are going to be out of the 49ers' lineup for a while. They didn't even suit up for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals due to injuries.
Whitner was lost on the opening series of the game with a hip contusion. Unofficially, he is questionable for next week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.The same goes for running back Frank Gore. He sustained a right ankle sprain in the second quarter. He equaled his season average of 2.5 yards a carry, while also fumbling away a key fourth-quarter possession.Starting right guard Chilo Rachal played so poorly that he was benched for the second half of the game.For most of the past decade, the 49ers had nobody to step up when backups were needed. But Sunday was a different story. The 49ers actually won a road game against a non-division opponent and they did it with a handful of backups playing key roles."That's the nature of the NFL," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "You don't go through a 16-game season with the same 11 guys. You got to have depth. Guys have to be ready to step in and play, and play well. You can't have a fall off. A lot of times, that's the difference between good teams and bad teams."It's been a while since the 49ers have been a good team. The 49ers have not compiled a winning record since 2002. The 49ers' win was unique in many ways. It was the organization's fifth non-division road victory since 2003.Moreover, it was the first 13-8 game in the history of the NFL. And as a result of their ugly win with the ugly score, the 49ers find themselves all alone atop the NFC West with a 2-1 record.And it was all because of the backups."You have to be ready in the National Football League. Every guy is one play away from being a starter," Whitner said. "That has to be the mindset during the week of practice and that has to be the mindset going into the football game."The 49ers got strong performances from several players who were pressed into key roles:Running back Kendall Hunter: His numbers -- nine carries, 26 yards -- were not spectacular. But Hunter accounted for the only touchdown in the game after taking over for ineffective and injured Gore in the fourth quarter.Harbaugh said the change was made because Gore sustained an ankle injury. The switch coincided with Gore's fumble that led to the go-ahead Bengals points in the fourth quarter."I just wanted to take advantage of my opportunity to get in there and help my team out," Hunter said. "It felt good to be out there and help my team win."Hunter played just three snaps in the first half. But he played 18 offensive plays, compared to Gore's 17 plays, in the second half."Kendall was in the ball game within the first seven or eight plays of the game," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He was getting more snaps later in the game in response to Frank's ankle."Right guard Adam Snyder: Snyder played most of the second half, replacing Rachal, who had a miserable first half. Rachal was porous in pass protection and was called for two holding penalties and a false start. Snyder entered the game, and he stands a strong chance at remaining in the starting lineup permanently.Nickel safety Reggie Smith: With the return of Dashon Goldson as a starter, Smith had no role on defense. But when Whitner was sidelined with a hip injury, Smith came onto the field for nickel situations.Smith made a phenomenal play when he made a diving interception off the artificial turf with 1:45 remaining in the game at the 49ers' 25-yard line. The play all but clinched the victory. Veteran Madieu Williams played safety on base downs as Whitner's replacement and he performed well, too."Reggie came up with a big play at the end," Whitner said. "Madieu made some really big plays. That's what you have to do. To be a good football team, you have to have depth. And I think we showed that today."Said Reggie Smith, "You got to be ready for whenever your number is called."Fullback Bruce Miller: He did not see a snap on offense in his first two NFL games, but he started Sunday in place of Norris. On his first NFL play from scrimmage Miller caught an 11-yard pass. He finished the game with four receptions for 25 yards.Several other players had roles for the first time this season. Dashon Goldson made his first start after missing the first two games with a knee injury. He recorded eight tackles. Veteran Shawntae Spencer was the third cornerback, and he broke up a pass and performed well, too.