Hill shines as red-hot 49ers hand reeling Jets second straight loss

SAN FRANCISCO -- From lineman Joe Staley's smart fumble recovery in the end zone to Shaun Hill's final touchdown pass, the San Francisco 49ers showed they're finally getting it together -- even if it's probably a bit too late to save their season.

Yet the chilly winds at Candlestick Park did nothing to cool down Jets coach Eric Mangini, whose reeling team has only three chances left to stop a promising year from totally falling apart.

Hill passed for 285 yards and two touchdowns against New York's porous secondary, and the 49ers sent the AFC East-leading Jets to their second straight embarrassing loss, 24-14 Sunday.

Joe Nedney kicked a 32-yard tiebreaking field goal early in the fourth quarter and Bryant Johnson made a diving 3-yard TD catch with 6:05 left for the suddenly solid 49ers (5-8), who have won three of four. Staley, their 315-pound left tackle, jumped on receiver Jason Hill's fumble for the 49ers' first score, adding a leaping spike that could have been mistaken for a tremor in a less earthquake-savvy stadium.

"It's just great to celebrate something," Staley said.

San Francisco beat an AFC East team with a winning record for the second straight week, knocking the Jets (8-5) into a tie atop the division with the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, who both won Sunday.

"Football is fun again, it really is," said center Eric Heitmann, who largely shut down fearsome Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins. "We're all playing together, offense, defense and special teams. You would have liked to see it happen a little earlier, but this is what it's supposed to look like. This is how we're supposed to win games."

Frank Gore caught a short TD pass and rushed for 52 yards before spraining his left ankle early in the second half for the Niners, who improved to 3-3 under Singletary. The interim coach is making a compelling case for the permanent job, sparking a franchise still headed to its sixth straight non-winning season.

"I won't say that it's my team, because I'm really trying to help it become the players' team," Singletary said. "Yes, I want the job, but I'm going to work as hard as I can, as honestly as I can. ... I'm not trying to impress anybody. I'm not trying to prove anything. I'm just being me, and hopefully when it's said and done, that's enough."

Meanwhile, anybody who judged the Jets solely on their trips to the Bay Area would have no idea how they're still in first place.

Seven weeks after a humiliating overtime loss to the Oakland Raiders, New York struggled against Mike Martz's offense, which held the ball for nearly 40 minutes in the Niners' biggest time-of-possession advantage in nine years, and a San Francisco defense that has rarely stopped anybody this season.

"The answers? The answers are in the room. The answers are within each person," Mangini said. "What we've got to do is what we've always done, which is come back and work that much more efficiently and that much more effectively. ... That's what we need to do week in and week out through the month of December because there's not very many chances left."

Brett Favre went 20-of-31 for 137 yards and ran for a score, but didn't throw a TD pass. Thomas Jones rushed for 56 yards on just 10 carries, though he tied two franchise records with a 17-yard scoring run for his 12th touchdown rushing and 14th total TD this season.

"I don't sense desperation," Favre said. "We're still in decent shape ... but if we continue to play the way we have, we won't be."

Hill improved to 4-0 as a starter at home, going 28-of-39 while steadily picking at the weak seams in New York's defense. Favre showed no such patience, repeatedly overthrowing receivers and failing to get the Jets in a rhythm even with top San Francisco cornerback Nate Clements sidelined by a broken thumb.

The Jets' 16-13 overtime loss to Raiders in mid-October was the lowest point of their season until last week's 34-17 home loss to Denver, which snapped a five-game winning streak. But New York still has ample time for redemption with two home division games remaining, including a visit from the Dolphins in the finale.

"We let two games get away that we should have rightfully won," cornerback Ty Law said. "We're just not playing Jets football. Time's running out. We have to go out and play to our potential. This is as talented a team as I've been around, but talent only takes you so far."

Gore scored 46 seconds before halftime, but hurt his ankle on the second play of the second half when a pile of tacklers fell on him as he strained for the first-down marker.

Game notes
Jones made his scoring run late in the third quarter, tying it and matching both Curtis Martin's club record for TDs rushing and four players' record for total touchdowns. ... LB David Harris led the Jets with 13 tackles in his first game back from a five-game absence with a groin injury. ... Clements missed the first game of his eight-year NFL career. He had played in 124 straight games and started 116, second among NFL cornerbacks.


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