The stage was set for either Alex Smith or Shaun Hill to grab hold of the 49ers starting quarterback competition. And neither was able to make a stronger case for themselves Saturday night in the 49ers 21-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders at Candlestick Park.
Smith started the game, played the entire first quarter and finished 3-of-9 for 30 yards and an interception. Hill replaced Smith at the start of the second quarter mid-drive and faired not much better, completing 3-of-7 passes for 20 yards.
"It's easy to look at the stats and say that was bad, but I don't think that's the case," Smith said. "I think when you're getting a quarter, when you're getting 12 plays, how big of a step can you take?
"You try to do the best you can with it. I think the goal is to run this offense and be smart with the ball. If that means throwing the ball away and keeping us in decent downs and distances, then you have to do that. If your passer rating suffers, then so be it. I think that's the way you have to play quarterback."
Smith's biggest plays of the game included a crack-back block that flattened Raiders defensive end Greg Ellis and a touchdown saving tackle after Ricky Brown intercepted a pass that bounced off the hands of Josh Morgan.
"It was probably the biggest hit of my NFL career – that's for sure," Smith said with a smile.
But it was rookie quarterback Nate Davis who supplied the fireworks, leading the 49ers on two fourth quarter touchdown drives and his first come from behind victory in the NFL.
"Nate was able to step up and make some throws," Hill said of the 49ers fifth-round draft pick. "He hurt them on the play action. Our run game was sucking them all up in there and we were able to get some guys loose on the play action in the second half. A come from behind victory in the fourth quarter bodes well for him."
The 49ers outrushed their Bay Area counterparts 275 to 69, with Glen Coffee (129 yards on 16 carries), Michael Robinson (97 yards on 14 carries) and Kory Sheets (51 yards on 12 carries) doing most of the leg work. With the ground game firing on all cylinders, Davis finished the game 6-of-11 for 67 yards and a touchdown.
His first touchdown drive was capped with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Delanie Walker. Davis hooked up with Walker again on the two-point conversion to put the 49ers down 14-11.
"I was in there with the second team and they were very confident in the huddle," Walker said. "They had their heads up high and they knew they could do it."
But it wasn't just the 49ers backups on offense who contributed to the win, the defensive unit came up big with two fourth quarter interceptions. The first takeaway happened on Oakland's drive after the Walker touchdown. Rookie linebacker Scott McKillop caught Bruce Gradkowski's pass that was tipped at the line by defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer.
McKillop's interception put the 49ers in great field position, but the drive stalled out and Alex Romero came on to hit a 28-yard field goal to tie the game at 14.
On the Raiders first play of their next drive, fourth-string quarterback Charlie Frye was intercepted by rookie cornerback Carlos Thomas. Thomas' interception put the 49ers at the Raiders 25-yard line. Four plays later, Sheets scored the go-ahead touchdown from 5-yards out.
Oakland's next drive ended with a Frye rushing touchdown that was initially ruled out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Raiders head coach Tom Cable challenged the play and was awarded the six points. Instead of attempting a game-tying extra point, Cable elected to go for two.
For the second consecutive week, safety Reggie Smith deterred the 49ers opponent from scoring a game-winning two-point conversion. This time around, Smith blitzed off the left edge and forced Frye to throw the ball sooner than he wanted.
The Raiders held the 49ers to a three-and-out, but muffed the ensuing punt. Smith recovered the fumble and the 49ers finished the game with three Sheets runs and two kneel-downs to seal the victory.