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October 27, 2013
49ers notes: Willis likes mid-season bye; Williams struggles; Harbaugh has Olympic moment

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LONDON - Patrick Willis couldn't remember whether he forced a fourth-quarter fumble with his right or left hand - and that's a positive sign for the 49ers linebacker.

Willis had to go to his left hand when he caused a game-altering fumble against the Cardinals in Week 6 because his right hand still was recovering from a broken bone that cost him most of training camp and the entire preseason. "It's starting to get a lot better," Willis said of the hand. "I was able to lift with it this week and put up a little weight."

On Sunday he hit Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis after a short gain, knocking the ball free in the process. It was scooped up by outside linebacker Dan Skuta, who had dropped into coverage on the play. Skuta weaved through would-be tacklers - and nicely set up his blockers - on his way to a 33-yard touchdown. The 49ers have forced at least one turnover in all but one game this season, and they have converted three of the takeaways - two on defense, one on special teams - into touchdowns.

Skuta said he had "a couple of picks in college, but that was the first run with the ball in a long time." How long had it been since he scored a touchdown? His senior year in high school, Skuta said.

Meanwhile, the silver lining to having to travel 6,000 miles for a game is that the 49ers will get their bye at the midpoint of the season. Willis said it's here at a perfect time. "It's a good time for our team, for guys who are on the verge of coming back, for guys who are dealing with some injuries, for guys to rest their body a little bit," he said.

The 49ers reported no injuries from the game.

Williams replaced - Kyle Williams, who had a mistake-filled first half on kick returns, didn't get a chance to make amends in the second half. Following the Jaguars' only touchdown of the game, tailback Anthony Dixon was waiting in the end zone, and he returned the kickoff to the Jacksonville 46-yard line. The field position set up the 49ers' fifth touchdown of the game, a two-yard run by Frank Gore.

Williams' struggles meanwhile, seemed to symbolize the surging 49ers' only weaknesses - little production by the No. 2 wide receiver and a lackluster return game.

He flubbed both a punt and a kickoff in the first half, though he didn't lose either. He also allowed his momentum to carry him out of bounds at the 3-yard line following a kick return with a few seconds left at the end of the half.

He also had two passes glance off his hands, although one of the opportunities had a high degree of difficulty. Williams finished the game with one carry for 10 yards and one catch for seven yards.

After the game, Harbaugh said the plan all along was to give Dixon a chance to return kicks. (Remarkably, Harbaugh's nose did not grow when he said this).

RB for sale? - The 49ers are dangling Dixon as trade bait, according to NFL.com. Dixon's main role is on special teams, but he also has served as an effective short-yardage runner this season, scoring two touchdowns. He also played fullback for the 49ers late in Sunday's blowout win.

A sixth-round draft pick in 2010, Dixon is making only $630,000, which makes him affordable for a team seeking a runner. Meanwhile, the 49ers have a glut of running backs. LaMichael James was inactive for the third straight week today.

Additionally, they have a promising young runner, Jewel Hampton, on the practice squad and another, rookie Marcus Lattimore, on the non-football injury list. The NFL's trade deadline is Tuesday.

Home flavor - Teal-colored Jaguars flags were placed in every seat in the stadium and Jacksonville receiver Cecil Shorts ran onto the field waving a Union Jack before the game. The Jaguars, who will play games in London through 2016, technically were the "home" team.

Still, there was a distinct red hue to the crowd, which booed 49ers penalties and were at full throat for each San Francisco score. According to the NFL, the 49ers are the United Kingdom's third-favorite team - behind the Patriots and Dolphins - and they seemed to get as many, if not more, cheers on Sunday.

"I saw it at the pep rally (Saturday)," Jim Harbaugh said. "There was great support for our team."
Harbaugh and the 49ers players also raved about the atmosphere. Nearly 84,000 were on hand at Wembley Stadium. "I felt like I was at the Olympics," Harbaugh said of listening to two anthems before the game. "... I got chills when that gal was singing 'God Save the Queen.'"

Et cetera - Harbaugh said the 49ers would hold "opportunity practices" on Tuesday and Wednesday. That's Harbaugh's version of voluntary practices, and he acknowledged only young players were likely to attend during the 49ers' bye week.

* Colt McCoy threw his first pass as a 49er, a 13-yard completion to Bruce Miller on 3rd-and-seven late in the game.

* The third-round pick in 2014 the 49ers received from the Chiefs in exchange for Alex Smith is now a second-round pick thanks to Kansas City's 8-0 start. The pick improved to a second rounder if Kansas City finished .500 or better.

-- 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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