Statistically, Lawrence Phillips' 49ers debut was a dud. Still, Phillips and the 49ers believe the numbers don't tell the whole story.
Trying to resurrect his NFL career after washing out twice because of legal and disciplinary problems, Phillips never got untracked, nor did he get much of a chance to. It was San Francisco's special teams and defense that finally did for a 24-23 exhibition win over the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night.
"I feel pretty good about where I am right now," said Phillips, who returned to practice this week after missing most of training camp with a right hamstring strain.
"You're never as good as you think you were and you're never as bad as you think you were. I have to see the film," Phillips said. "But this is nothing new to me. I've played football before. I just have to get in there and play."
San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci said he wanted to get Phillips acclimated to a new system but also didn't want to overwork Phillips coming off an injury.
"He got his feet wet," Mariucci said. "It was a good place to start for him. After he dropped that first pass, he made a couple of first downs for us, squirted through a couple of linebackers. Nothing sensational. We had a plan for him. We wanted him to do certain things. He needs to get some work."
The game itself came down to Seattle coach Mike Holmgren's decision to pass up the chance for the tie after a late Seahawks score. Rather than possibly sending the game into overtime, he opted for a two-point conversion attempt with nine seconds left but Brock Huard's pass fell incomplete.
"It was exciting. I never get a chance to do that as a rule," Holmgren said. "It gets us out of town in time to catch our airplan. No, seriously, I think it is OK to let the team and everyone feel the excitement of that plan and the urgency of it."
Holmgren also may have been influenced by the injury factor that was evident earlier in the game.
On San Francisco's second play from scrimmage, tight end Greg Clark caught a 13-yard pass from Steve Young but took a shot to the ribs when he was sandwiched between linebacker Anthony Simmons and strong safety Darryl Williams.
Clark couldn't get up and team doctors and trainers tended to him on the field for several minutes before removing him on a gurney. X-rays taken in the locker room were inconclusive and Clark was transported to Stanford Hospital for further observation.
"Hopefully, it's not more than a cracked rib," Mariucci said, adding Clark was expected to be sidelined for several weeks. "He's still in a lot of pain."
Seattle got a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs, first from Ricky Watters and then by Dustin Johnson, whose score with 10:12 remaining put the Seahawks up 17-3.
But the 49ers came back in the fourth quarter.
Rookie Damon Griffin returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and Seattle promptly gave the ball back when Charlie Rogers fumbled the kickoff, leading to Steve Stenstrom's game-tying 22-yard scoring pass to Na'il Benjamin 53 seconds later.
The go-ahead score came after Huard's third interception of the night.
Defensive end David Richie, dropping into pass coverage on a zone blitz, picked off Huard and returned it 35 yards for a TD with 1:51 remaining. Huard nearly redeemed himself, driving the Seahawks to the San Francisco 1, where he tossed a scoring pass to Deems May with nine seconds left. However, Huard's conversion pass was slightly behind Michael Black and fell incomplete.
Phillips, who returned to practice this week after missing much of the team's training camp with a strained right hamstring, did not have a run over 4 yards or a catch over 7 yards.
He lost one yard on his first carry, snowed under by a swarm of Seattle defenders, and Steve Young's first pass to him bounced off his shoulder pads. Phillips, a former first round pick who lost previous NFL jobs with the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins, hopped in the air in disgust over the drop.
The crowd rewarded him with a round of applause when he came back to make a catch over the middle and gain 7 yards for a first down but the drive later fizzled.
Phillips also had a 21-yard kickoff return after Ricky Watters' finished Seattle's most impressive drive of the night, a 10-play, 75-yard effort against San Francisco's first unit, with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
Kitna, who completed 8 of 14 throws for 118 yards in the first half, also led a 44-yard drive ending in Todd Peterson's 33-yard field goal late in the first quarter.
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