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Sprained ligament in right knee could sideline Davis two games

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Just when Vernon Davis finally became
a key part of the San Francisco 49ers' offense, the tight end has
been sidelined by an injury.

Davis probably will miss the 49ers' next two games with a
sprained ligament in his right knee after getting hurt during San
Francisco's 37-16 loss at Pittsburgh. He caught four passes for 56
yards against the Steelers just a few days after asking coach Mike
Nolan how he could be more involved in the Niners' struggling
offense.

Last year's No. 6 overall draft pick appeared to be headed for a
breakout season this summer after missing six games of his rookie
campaign with a broken right leg. Instead, he has just eight
catches for 83 yards -- and now he's probably out through San
Francisco's bye week in early October.

That didn't stop Davis from studying at the 49ers' training
complex late Sunday night after the team's cross-country flight
from its first loss of the season. Davis said he watched the entire
game on film before heading to bed.

"If we lose a game, I'll come in here and see the things that
went wrong," said Davis, whose broken leg last season was the
first injury of his football life. "I'll critique myself a little
bit, especially. I'm in no rush to get home."

Davis was hurt on a play that might have turned Sunday's game in
the Steelers' favor in the third quarter. With the 49ers down by 11
points, Davis leaped to make a 22-yard catch at the Pittsburgh 10,
but dropped the ball while hitting the ground on a hit by safety
Troy Polamalu.

The Steelers claimed they recovered a fumble, while the 49ers
were sure Davis had made a clean catch. The officials ruled an
incomplete pass and infuriated 49ers coach Mike Nolan, who
described it Monday as "the turning point in the game."

"[But] excuses are for losers," Nolan said. "They make it OK
to lose, and that's not why we're here."

The 49ers asked the league for clarification of referee Gerry
Austin's ruling on the play, but didn't get any response that made
them feel better.

"The officials didn't cost us the game," Nolan said.
"However, in the NFL, coaches and players are held accountable to
a very high standard ... and I believe that criticism makes us
better. I'm suggesting we hold everyone accountable to the same
standards, because it's not a job for everyone."

San Francisco lost Davis on the play and got just a field goal
from the drive. The 49ers then quickly allowed 13 straight points,
ending a fairly encouraging day in disappointing fashion.

Though the Niners figured they probably weren't as good as their
2-0 record suggested, they know they're better than the club that
struggled through the final minutes in Pittsburgh.

"There's definitely some positives," said Alex Smith, who went
17-of-35 for 209 yards with a TD pass and an interception that was
returned for a score. "Decision making, playmaking, I felt better
this week than I did the last couple."

San Francisco's defense has been solid, allowing just one
touchdown drive longer than 50 yards by the Steelers. The Niners'
biggest concern is their inability to run the ball this season
after Frank Gore racked up 1,695 yards last year behind a tough
offensive line.

Gore has just 175 yards after three games, though his
once-broken right hand appears to be fine following a routine
post-game examination Sunday.

The Pro Bowl running back has the same blockers for the second
straight season except for rookie right tackle Joe Staley, who
replaced Kwame Harris. But defenses have exploited Smith and the
49ers' mediocre receiving corps by stacking eight or nine defenders
against the run, daring Smith to beat them with passes.

"I know we're really close on a lot of things," center Eric Heitmann said. "When you watch film, we're really close to running
the ball well. Guys are getting a lot of movement up front. We're
seeing good things everywhere on the offense, and we're going to
fix it. We know we're capable of running the ball."

Notes
Nolan wasn't certain of the severity of S Mark Roman's
elbow injury. The coach wasn't even sure when Roman got hurt. ...
LT Jonas Jennings appeared to engage LG Larry Allen in a sideline
argument in the fourth quarter, but Nolan said Allen simply was
trying to calm down Jennings after the line allowed a sack. ...
Nolan praised LB Hannibal Navies' play in place of Manny Lawson,
who's out for the season. Navies forced a fumble, made four tackles
and had a sack. ... DE Marques Douglas and S Michael Lewis had
eight tackles apiece to lead the 49ers. Rookie LB Patrick Willis,
who led the team in each of the first two games, had seven.