SANTA CLARA -- Although Mike Nolan has already shown he doesn't know much about what his quarterbacks are thinking, the San Francisco 49ers coach is fairly certain Shaun Hill is happy to be a starter after six years holding a clipboard.
The Niners certainly are thrilled by Hill, who's providing a late boost to one big downer of a season.
Hill, the 27-year-old third-stringer who got his first NFL start Saturday, was outstanding in the 49ers' 20-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, passing for 197 yards and accounting for two touchdowns. Nolan said Hill will start the final two games for the 49ers (4-10), including Sunday's home finale against Tampa Bay.
After a disappointing season featuring a prolonged public miscommunication between Nolan and Alex Smith over the severity of the former No. 1 draft pick's shoulder injury, Hill's steady play was a respite from the surge of bad news around the coach, whose future with the club is in jeopardy after just three seasons.
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"I'm very pleased to see the way he's played," Nolan said Monday. "He will make us a better football team one way or the other, whatever his role."
The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent provided six quarters of the 49ers' most competent quarterbacking of the season, including a strong second half against Minnesota the previous week. If Nolan isn't fired in two weeks, he knows he'll be under pressure to re-sign Hill and allow him to compete with Smith next year.
The 49ers approached Hill with talks about a new contract earlier in the year, but he elected to wait until after the season, a decision that could pay big dividends if Hill is able to string together two more quality starts. At the least, he's likely to make more than the NFL's minimum salary, the only pay scale he's ever known.
VIKINGS 20, BEARS 13, at Minneapolis -- Trampled by Adrian Peterson the last time they met, Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears figured out how to stop Minnesota's star rookie for the better part of three quarters. At least until it really counted. Peterson's 8-yard touchdown run, his second of the night started by a shoulder-shake to fake Urlacher at the line of scrimmage, sent the Vikings past the Bears for their fifth consecutive victory. "Couldn't finish," said Urlacher, who kept his sparse postgame comments to grouchy sentence fragments.
QUICK HITTERS -- Cowboys safety Roy Williams was suspended without pay for one game by the NFL after his third illegal "horse collar" tackle of the season. Williams, whose use of the tactic led to the league passing a rule making it a 15-yard penalty, did it against Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in Sunday's 10-6 loss. He will miss Saturday night's game at Carolina, which will cost him $35,000. ... Former NFL player Todd Burger was one of five men arrested over the weekend in a bust of an alleged Internet gambling operation. Burger, who played guard for the Bears and Jets, allegedly collected gambling debts for suspect Anthony "Cheese" Pecoraro.