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SANTA CLARA — Wide receiver Anquan Boldin came in motion from the right side, sidled up next to left tackle Joe Staley and joined the 49ers' blocking brigade at Sunday's most critical juncture.

Fullback Bruce Miller followed a path carved by Boldin and Staley to gain three yards on fourth-and-1, extending an 18-play touchdown drive that sealed the 49ers' 32-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

"I felt him kind of leap across, so I was pretty excited about that," Boldin said Monday of Miller's carry, his first of the season.

Coach Jim Harbaugh proudly reflected on that drive, too, and he gave special recognition to 6-yard touchdown run. With Hunter coming behind Anthony Davis, Vernon Davis helped create an opening with a block on linebacker Karlos Dansby.

"The blocks by Vernon Davis and Anthony Davis were textbook, something to really be admired and highlighted," Harbaugh said.

The 49ers had been unable to produce touchdowns on three earlier trips into the red zone, and Hunter's scoring run snapped that skid. San Francisco has scored touchdowns on 10 of 20 red-zone possessions.

Also encouraging on that drive were three conversions on third-down attempts. The 49ers were just 1 of 8 on third-down efficiency before the 18-play drive, which was kept alive with third-down catches by Boldin and Kyle Williams, as well as a third-and-1 run by Gore two snaps before Hunter's touchdown. The 18 plays were the most of any drive in the NFL this season.

"It was big for us," Boldin added. "Our defense had been on the field for quite some time, and we felt they needed a break."

We were able to put the game away."

JAMES MAY GET CALLED ON

LaMichael James could be summoned off the bench to spark the 49ers' punt-return efforts, a role that's strictly belonged to Kyle Williams through six games.

Harbaugh did not, however, express any discontent Monday with Williams, who's averaged 7.1 yards on eight returns while otherwise opting for 16 fair catches.

"Those fair catches aren't all on Kyle," Harbaugh said in noting how the 49ers improperly blocked opponents' gunners. "He does a good job of knowing whether to fair catch or return."

Williams' 16 fair catches already are the ninth-most in a season by the 49ers. Vinny Sutherland had the most with 21 in 2001, and 20 were made by John Taylor (1989), Dexter Carter (1993) and Arnaz Battle (2004).

"They're kicking it short and putting it in a spot where gunners are able to make a play on me and force a fair catch," Williams said. "You never want to be too safe or too risky, and you want to get something going."

BOLDIN TAKES SHOT

Boldin took a critical swipe at the NFL's new emphasis on player safety, saying "I think the league is covering their butt to be honest with you."

The 49ers wideout was taking part in an online chat with the Bay Area News Group and fans when he was asked if he had seen the PBS documentary "League of Denial," which details the NFL's history with concussion studies and protocol.

Boldin said he hadn't seen it yet and gave the league credit for taking gameday diagnoses out of the hands of coaches and potentially concussed players.

Then he added: "But there are some things that just don't make sense to me. I mean if you're so concerned about player safety then why do you have every team in the league playing on Thursday night when they just competed on a Sunday, knowing how difficult it is for guys to get back to being healthy after playing on Sunday?

"The league can say they're doing things to protect guys, but I'm not one of the guys buying it."

NETTER RETURNS TO CLUB

Former Cardinal Newman and Northwestern offensive lineman Al Netter returned to the practice squad after being released last week by the Tennessee Titans, who host the 49ers on Sunday. Netter, a Rohnert Park native, spent last season on the 49ers' practice squad.

MANNINGHAM EXPECTED

Today's walk-through practice should include wideout Mario Manningham, cornerback Eric Wright and rookie defensive linemen Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine. All are eligible to come off reserve/injured lists this week and are expected to do so, Harbaugh said. Once those four players begin practicing, the 49ers will have three weeks to evaluate whether to add them to the active roster.

CRABTREE STILL IDLE

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree will remain on the reserve/physically unable to perform list and isn't expected to start practicing until mid- to late November. He can stay on PUP through Nov. 19 before beginning his 21-day practice period, as is the case with others on reserve/injured lists, a group that also includes running back Marcus Lattimore and offensive tackle Luke Marquardt.

COACH CHASTISES FANS

Harbaugh advised fans on proper protocol, stemming from the controversial "wave" that occurred in Candlestick's stands while the Cardinals' Calais Campbell was being evaluated for a spine injury and put on a stretcher. (Campbell left a Bay Area hospital Sunday night and flew back to Arizona, where reports have been positive on his recovery.)

"If a cart is coming on to a field, that signifies a pretty serious injury," Harbaugh said.

"The best thing to do is silence. Let doctors do their work, and a collective prayer would be much appreciated."

NO INJURY UPDATES

Harbaugh had no injury updates on nose tackle Glenn Dorsey (right hamstring), linebacker Patrick Willis (groin), guard Mike Iupati (right shoulder) or linebacker Michael Wilhoite (forearm, quadriceps).

SHUTDOWN A PROBLEM

The federal-government shutdown has affected the 49ers' preparation for next week's trip to London for an Oct. 27 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"There've been one or two hitches with the government shutdown, but we're working through it," Harbaugh said in referring to collecting passports for players and staff.