49ers Blog and Q&A

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

January 1, 2012
Willis returns, happy for the chance to "knock off rust"


Linebacker Patrick Willis, injured early in a Week 13 game against the Rams, made his return against St. Louis. Willis (hamstring) started for the first time in four weeks and finished the game with four tackles.

Afterward, Willis admitted there was plenty of rust but said he was glad he got a game in before the playoffs began. "I thought my feet were very heavy," Willis said. "I felt differently ... like (the game) was new all over again."

No team has been more careful with the football than the 49ers. They made it through their fifth straight game without a turnover and ended the season with only 10 - five interceptions and five fumbles.

Since 1946, only the 2010 Patriots have had as few turnovers. The five interceptions are by far the smallest number for the 49ers. Their previous low mark was 16 in 1960. They also committed a franchise-record low four fumbles in 1960.

Only one other starting quarterback, Denver's Tim Tebow, had thrown as few as five interceptions this season heading into Sunday's game. Tebow, however, has started only 11 games while Smith has started all 16. His last interception came on Nov. 24 on an end-zone pass to Braylon Edwards.

Aldon Smith entered Sunday's game with 14 sacks, a half sack away from the rookie record Jevon Kearse set in 1999. Smith was not credited with a sack in the game, although he joined in on a first-quarter sack that was initiated by defensive end Justin Smith.

It's possible that the league will examine that play and award Aldon Smith a half sack. However, linebacker NaVorro Bowman also was in on the play and appeared to get to the quarterback before Aldon Smith.

Odds & ends

• The 49ers suffered three injuries. Fullback Bruce Miller left the game in the first half with a knee injury but went back into the game on the 49ers' second-to-last series. He was walking with a noticeable limp afterward. Defensive end Ray McDonald left the game late in the fourth quarter. He also was limping but said he would be ok. Third cornerback Chris Culliver was on the sideline at game's end nursing a knee injury. Tramaine Brock took his place on passing downs.

• Safety Reggie Smith filled in for Ted Ginn (ankle) on punt returns, taking back four for 37 yards. "Just like riding a bike," said Smith, who handled punt returns in college at Oklahoma.

* The 49ers' wideout woes also allowed rookie safety Colin Jones to get his first offensive snaps of the season. In the first quarter, Alex Smith faked a fly sweep to Jones and then pitched the ball to Kendall Hunter, who gained five yards.

-- 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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