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News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

December 24, 2011
Larry Grant channels Justin Smith at game's end


SEATTLE -Larry Grant did his best Justin Smith impersonation late in the fourth quarter. With the Seahawks driving for a last-minute field goal and a likely win, the 49ers' inside linebacker ran down Seattle's Tarvaris Jackson, saw the ball hanging loosely from the quarterback's hand and then took a big whack with his right hand. Grant's chop knocked the ball free, and safety Donte Whitner recovered it with 67 seconds remaining to preserve the win for San Francisco.

Jackson initially eluded Grant (Foothill High) on the play, but the linebacker kept pursuing him. "He didn't tuck it at all," Grant said. "He keeps it loose and keeps his eyes down field. Knowing he does that, it was just, hit him from behind."

"It was - again - a great hustle play," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We've had a bunch of those." Defensive end Justin Smith twice has been the 49ers' end-of-game hero. He forced a fumble to preserve a win against Philadelphia in Week 4, then batted down Eli Manning's last-second touchdown attempt at the end of a Week 10 victory against the Giants.

Grant's forced fumble came in a game in which two impressive streaks ended for the 49ers' run defense.

Seattle tailback Marshawn Lynch finished with 107 yards, ending at 36 games a string of contests in which the 49ers have held the opposing rusher to fewer than 100 yards. Lynch became the first running back to break the 100-yard barrier against San Francisco since Green Bay's Ryan Grant did it in November 2009. Lynch's four-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter also was the first rushing score against the 49ers this year. Grant was one of two 49ers who had a shot at Lynch on his touchdown run.

Still, nobody was talking about the spoiled streaks after Saturday's game. For the third straight week, Grant started in place of Patrick Willis, who did a few linebacker-like drills - dropping back in coverage, shuffling between cones - before the game but was held out to rest his still-recovering right hamstring.

Willis said he watches Grant during each play so that he can give him advice between series and that he saw the forced fumble developing. Said Willis: "That's what we talk about all the time as a defense - never giving up and just hustling to the ball."

David Akers' 44-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter landed the kicker in the record books. It was Akers' 41st field goal of the season, one more than Neil Rackers had in 2005 for the Cardinals. Akers also struck from 53 and 29 yards, and he hit the game-winner with 2:57 remaining from 39 yards away. Akers also missed an attempt from 52 yards in the first quarter.

The 49ers offense, meanwhile, is on the verge of an impressive record after finishing without a turnover. Through 15 games, the unit has committed only 10 turnovers - five interceptions and five fumbles. If the 49ers don't give up the ball in next week's finale against the Rams, they will become only the second team since 1946 to have as few as 10 turnovers. The Patriots accomplished that last season.

The 49ers suffered several injuries Saturday, none more serious than the one to Delanie Walker. The tight end was inadvertently kneed in the side of the head in the first half, and he was taken to the hospital with what teammates suspected was a broken jaw.

Return man Kyle Williams left the game after being sandwiched by two defenders on a kickoff return. Williams is likely to undergo concussion tests this week for the 49ers, giving them a precarious situation at the return man position. Their primary returner, Ted Ginn, missed Saturday's game with a sprained ankle.

Justin Smith (leg) and linebacker Ahmad Brooks (elbow) briefly left the game in the first half but returned to the contest. Both Walker and Williams returned to the Bay Area on the team's charter flight.

NaVorro Bowman sacked Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson for a four-yard sack in the second quarter, the first sack of the linebacker's career. Bowman leads the 49ers in tackles. Aldon Smith sacked Jackson for an eight-yard loss. That gives the rookie 14 on the season, a half sack shy of Jevon Kearse's rookie record that he set with the Tennessee Titans in 1999.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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