ATLANTA - Vernon Davis hauled in the hurried pass from Alex Smith and saw nothing but end zone. Chris Crocker didn't give up, though, and his shoestring tackle wound up saving a rare win for the Atlanta Falcons.
Crocker tripped up Davis at the 1, Lawyer Milloy threw the 49ers for a loss on the next play and Atlanta held on Sunday for an ugly 20-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Warrick Dunn became the first Falcons back to run for 100 yards this season, while Ovie Mughelli had the first TD rushing of his career. For the most part, the game looked like a matchup between two of the league's worst teams.
"We needed a win," said Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, who wasn't about to complain about the lack of style points. "It feels good to work hard and finally see it pay off."
San Francisco (2-6), losing its sixth in a row, had another miserable game offensively, though the 49ers appeared poised to grab the lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Trailing 17-13, they started ripping off yards in big chunks: a 21-yard pass from Smith to Davis, a 14-yard run by Maurice Hicks, a 20-yarder by Michael Robinson that set up San Francisco with first-and-goal at the Atlanta 10.
On second down, Smith rolled away from pressure by Demorrio Williams and dumped a pass in the flats to Davis, who had plenty of room to run. But Crocker hustled over to trip up the big tight end at the 1, leaving San Francisco with third down instead of a touchdown.
"I have no idea where that guy came from," Davis moaned. "I was headed for the end zone."
The Falcons (2-6) held when Milloy sliced through the line to dump Robinson for a 3-yard loss on third-and-goal. The 49ers settled for Joe Nedney's third field goal, and didn't come close to scoring again.
Milloy also picked off a pass, one of three interceptions thrown by the banged-up Smith.
"We finally looked like a football team," said DeAngelo Hall, who also had another of Atlanta's interceptions. "It's very encouraging. I hope we keep it up down the stretch."
After his pick, Hall handed off the ball to owner Arthur Blank standing on the Falcons sideline.
"We needed it bad," said Hall, who has criticized the direction of the team and is now vowing to speak to the media only after games. "We didn't want to be 1-7."
The game was blacked out locally - the first time that's happened in Atlanta since 2001. The Georgia Dome was far from packed after 56 consecutive sellouts, the city clearly losing interest in a losing squad that no longer has Michael Vick to liven things up.
For those who couldn't see it on television or didn't show up, not to worry: Y'all didn't miss much.
Dunn rushed for 100 yards on 27 carries, including a 9-yard touchdown. Mughelli, a fullback who essentially serves as another offensive lineman, scored on a 1-yard plunge with just his third carry of the season. Morten Andersen handled the rest of the scoring with a couple of fourth-quarter field goals.
The 49ers haven't scored 20 points in a game since their season-opening win over Arizona. They had to go without leading rusher Frank Gore (sore ankle) and Smith played again with a taped-up throwing shoulder, completing only 17 of 38 passes for 149 yards. He also lost a fumble when John Abraham stripped the ball away from behind.
"We have to keep fighting," Smith said. "There's no other choice."
Joey Harrington, getting another chance to start for Atlanta while Byron Leftwich recovers from ankle surgery, didn't exactly dazzle. He was 14-of-25 for 138 yards with an interception.
But the way the Falcons were flying around on defense, it didn't matter.
"The way we played today," Abraham said, "is the way I want us to play the rest of the season."
San Francisco started well, driving for its lone touchdown on its first possession. Hicks, who shared the running duties with Robinson, went 9 yards without being touched for his second career TD.
Running the ball as well as they have all season, the Falcons bounced back for a 14-7 lead by halftime. Dunn did most of the work on a nine-play, 70-yard drive, carrying the ball seven times. The last of those was the 9-yard score, which he improvised by breaking outside on a run at left tackle.
Adam Jennings set up Atlanta's other TD with a 23-yard punt return to the San Francisco 42. Mughelli finished off the tedious 12-play drive by powering over.
Notes: The Falcons rushed for a season-high 155 yards.... Dunn had his first 100-yard game in more than a year. His last was a 146-yard performance against the New York Giants on Oct. 15, 2006.... Filling in for Gore, Robinson rushed for 67 yards and Hicks had 49.... Atlanta RB Jerious Norwood hobbled off with an injured right ankle in the first quarter, then left for good after reinjuring it in the third.