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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:51 p.m., Sunday, October 7, 2007

NFL: Defenses dominate as Ravens stop 49ers, 9-7

AP Sports Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Now Mike Nolan knows how it feels to be stymied and stifled by that Baltimore Ravens defense he used to run.

Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and their crew suffocated San Francisco on all but a few plays, and Matt Stover made up for Baltimore's near-equal offensive ineptitude with three field goals in the Ravens' 9-7 victory over Nolan's 49ers today.

Nolan was the Ravens' defensive coordinator for three years before leaving Brian Billick's staff along with top assistant Mike Singletary in 2005, rebuilding the 49ers using many of Billick's principles.

But neither coaching staff could get more than a flicker of offense out of its players at Candlestick Park. The Ravens (3-2) didn't get in the end zone despite outgaining San Francisco 315-163, yet they hung on with the franchise's lowest point total in a victory since the former Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996.

Except for an inexplicable two-play sequence when San Francisco completed two long passes for 65 yards and its only score, the Baltimore defense applied the soundest beating yet to the 49ers (2-3), who lost their third straight while failing to gain 200 yards for the fourth time in five games.

Steve McNair was 29-of-43 for 214 yards, and Willis McGahee rushed for 88 yards behind a patchwork offensive line.

Despite the 49ers' struggles with Trent Dilfer replacing Alex Smith, San Francisco made a 40-yard drive in the closing minutes to set up Joe Nedney's 52-yard field goal attempt with 2:37 to play. But the veteran kicker pushed it wide right, and Baltimore ran out the clock.

Baltimore played without left tackle Jonathan Ogden, tight end Todd Heap and cornerback Samari Rolle — and then lost backup left tackle Adam Terry and center Mike Flynn to injuries. Four-fifths of Baltimore's line either was injured or playing out of position, and it showed.

Dilfer, facing the team he led to its only Super Bowl triumph in January 2001, was 12-of-19 for 126 yards. He made his first start for San Francisco in place of Smith, who threw a few pregame passes before watching from the sidelines with no sling on his separated right shoulder, which seems to be healing quickly.

With Smith, tight end Vernon Davis and left tackle Jonas Jennings sitting out for San Francisco, Frank Gore had another tough game, gaining just 52 yards.

Baltimore led 6-0 after a snoozeworthy first half in which San Francisco's offense managed one first down and 38 total yards, including zero net yards passing.

San Francisco had 56 total yards midway through the third quarter before Dilfer absorbed a brutal hit from Gerome Sapp to get a 42-yard pass to Bryan Gilmore. He then hit Arnaz Battle on a post route for a 23-yard touchdown, cutting Baltimore's lead to two points.

And that was it for offensive excitement on a picture-perfect Bay Area day.

Both defenses and punters dominated the first quarter, highlighted by Andy Lee's 74-yard punt for San Francisco. A sketchy pass-interference call against Shawntae Spencer moved Baltimore 32 yards — easily the longest play of the quarter, and 10 yards more than San Francisco's offense managed in the whole period.

Stover finally broke the deadlock with a 26-yard field goal 2:44 before halftime. He hit another field goal right before the whistle, then added a third early in the third quarter after Reed intercepted Dilfer's overthrow.