49ers have a new king of the 'Hill'

San Francisco quarterback Shaun Hill couldn't get Minnesota's Chad Greenway off his back Sunday.  Hill will have to carry the 49ers on his back when he gets in his first start.
San Francisco quarterback Shaun Hill couldn't get Minnesota's Chad Greenway off his back Sunday. Hill will have to carry the 49ers on his back when he gets in his first start. AP

SANTA CLARA -- After spending nearly six seasons as an NFL quarterback without throwing a pass in a game, Shaun Hill developed a quick answer for strangers who asked what he did for a living.

"I'm a UPS driver," Hill said. "Every time, that's what I say. I can still pull it off."

After six years with two teams and countless practices as a lowly scout team quarterback, Hill no longer must pretend to drive a brown truck. He'll never again have to explain why his entire career consists of two kneeldowns for the Minnesota Vikings.

He's in charge of the San Francisco 49ers' offense for at least one week, and probably for the rest of the season.

After passing for 181 yards in his first significant NFL playing time last Sunday, Hill will make his first start Saturday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. Alex Smith is done for the season following shoulder surgery, and Trent Dilfer likely is finished as well after incurring a concussion last week.

Hill can't think of another player who stuck in the league for six years with no real playing time. He's been a No. 3 emergency quarterback for most of that time, save nine weeks as Brad Johnson's backup with the Vikings in 2005.

"The two kneeldowns (to end that season) were perfect plays, so I had a good start," Hill said with a grin. "I would have thought I would play before my sixth year, but this is the way it played out, and I'm very excited for this opportunity."

The 49ers are cautiously optimistic about Hill -- and since they've already got the league's worst offense and the least successful passing game, how much worse could he be? Hill was downright impressive at times while filling in for Dilfer last week, going 22-for-27 and throwing a touchdown pass to Arnaz Battle. Hill also committed two turnovers, partly because he has trouble gripping the ball at times with a protective wrap on the injured index finger of his throwing hand.

"I like Shaun. The communication is good," said tight end Vernon Davis, who caught five passes for 42 yards from Hill in the second half last week. "He's going to get through his reads, and he's going to give you a shot. If you're open, he's going to pop you right away, and I tend to get open."

  • TEXANS 31, BRONCOS 13, at Houston -- Mario Williams dragged down Jay Cutler for the third time, jumped up and sashayed like a hula dancer.

Last year's No. 1 pick had a career-high 3½ sacks to lead Houston past Denver. With its seventh of the season, Houston (7-7) tied the franchise record for victories and remains alive in the playoff chase.

Williams performance made him Houston's career sack leader with 17½.

Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels, in for the injured Matt Schaub, was 16-of-27 for 200 yards and had two total touchdowns, one passing and one rushing.

Brandon Marshall finished with 11 receptions for 107 yards for the Broncos (6-8). Should Denver -- which is still barely alive in the postseason race -- lose one of its last two games or San Diego win any of its final three, the Chargers would clinch the AFC West.

  • QUICK HITTERS -- Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin participated in part of practice and was upbeat about his chances of playing Sunday at New Orleans. ... San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman will miss the home game against Detroit with a sprained knee.
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