There were so many heroes after yesterday's 37-31 game in OT that Mike Nolan awarded game balls to every player. Some of them were obvious: Trent Dilfer had his best game as a 49er; Frank Gore ran like the 2006 version of himself; Walt Harris had two interceptions; and Patrick Willis had 20-plus tackles, saving the game when he ran down a wide receiver in the open field early in overtime. One guy probably not on your list is linebacker Derek Smith. According to Nolan it was Smith's coverage on the final play of the game that allowed Ronald Fields the time to get to Kurt Warner. Warner was looking for a short pass to either his tight end or to receiver Anquan Boldin, both of whom were maneuvering in the middle of the field. Smith, however, chucked the tight end when he came over the middle, causing the tight end to collide with Boldin. As a result, Warner had to tuck the ball in.
"As soon as he pulled the ball down, it gave Ron Fields a couple of steps to take the quarterback down," Nolan said.
As if scoring 37 points - the most in the Nolan era; the most since 2003, in fact - wasn't shocking enough, Nolan on Monday also admitted ... and maybe you should sit down for this ... that he was wrong. At the end of the first half, Nolan had Joe Nedney attempt a 55-yard field goal on second down with 11 seconds left. That allowed the Cardinals time for their Hail Mary touchdown on the last play of the half. Asked if he should have called one more play to trim a few more seconds off the clock, even if it was a deliberate throw out of bounds, Nolan said: "You're right - should have taken a snap and thrown it away."
Speaking of Hail Marys, the 49ers' usual Hail Mary buster is out for the season with a torn ACL. Linebacker Manny Lawson, who stands 6-5 and has a long reach, has that role. Nolan said he's also thought about using tight end Vernon Davis or receiver Ashley Lelie in those instances but said safety Michael Lewis should be a guy who can out-jostle receivers like Larry Fitzgerald. "If Michael's not around, I have to think long and hard about putting Ashley or Vernon in there," Nolan said.
The 49ers are 6-0 in their most recent overtime games, prompting Nolan to quip: "Sounds like we have to get into overtime more often."
Sunday's game earned the team a "Win Monday." That is, the players got the day off. It's back to work Wednesday in preparation for the Carolina Panthers.
-- Matt Barrows