Dixon redeems himself with key short-yardage run

Meet the Rookies Rewind: Anthony Dixon (2010)

Dixon redeems himself with key short-yardage run
January 24, 2013, 6:45 am
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SANTA CLARA -- The moment was not lost on 49ers running back Anthony Dixon when he got the call on the sideline to enter the NFC Championship Game for what would be his only offensive play of the game.

With the 49ers trailing 24-21, Dixon ran into the huddle prior to a third-and-1 play from the Atlanta Falcons' 29-yard line. Eleven minutes remained in the game.

"I knew what time it was," Dixon said. "I was hoping for the ball. I thought, 'I hope he gives it me.' I wanted to redeem myself bad. I told myself I wasn't going to be stopped."

A year ago, Dixon was stopped. And it was one of many crucial plays the 49ers did not make in their 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.

On that drizzly day at Candlestick Park with a Super Bowl berth on the line, Dixon got the call on a third-and-1 situation from the Giants' 46 with 13:50 remaining in the fourth quarter. New York linebacker Chase Blackburn tripped up Dixon for no gain. The 49ers, leading 14-10, were forced to punt. And they squandered an opportunity to put the game away.

"Every day I thought about it," Dixon said. "All of us had our roles in the game, and that was my role. And I didn't get it done last year. The whole offseason I had to think about him tripping me up on that one play."

Dixon, listed at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds, was the biggest back on the 49ers. But he didn't always run like it. He showed up out of shape when the lockout ended and 2011 training camp began.

Coaches questioned his dedication and priorities -- certainly not his talent. And that failed third-down run seemed to be the impetus for the 49ers deciding to move on in 2012 without him.

The 49ers signed powerful veteran Brandon Jacobs, seemingly for Dixon's role in short-yardage situations. And the 49ers also brought in veteran Rock Cartwright for the purpose of filling Dixon's role on special teams.

It appeared Dixon had little chance to make the 49ers' 53-man roster. But Dixon was not going to go down without a fight.

"I saw him work all summer and when they brought Brandon Jacobs in, I didn't blink," 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis said. "I knew side-by-side in that competition nobody was just going to take Dixon's job. You got to be built a certain kind of way to come in and take his job."

Said Dixon, "The odds were stacked against me. With some people, that'll shut them down to see guys with huge resumes come in at their position. For me, knowing my talents, I felt like I was good. The only thing I knew I had to do was work."

Dixon repeated the 49ers' mantra of the offseason. Coach Jim Harbaugh instructed his players to "work, not worry." And demonstrating a work ethic he had not shown previously, Dixon set out to be a better player.

"I worked to get myself more discipline, more stronger, and an all-around better player," Dixon said. "And it worked."

Dixon won a role on the team because of his play on special teams. The 49ers released Cartwright when it came time for the final cuts. Dixon suited up for every game while Jacobs was mostly just a spectator.

Jacobs grew disenchanted with his lack of playing time throughout the season and spoke out repeatedly on social media. The 49ers suspended him for the final three games of the regular season for conduct detrimental to the team and waived him as the playoffs began.

Dixon always kept the team in mind. And as Sunday's game against the Falcons played out, he kept thinking about getting an opportunity to make amends for his failure of a year ago.

"I thought about it a thousand times," Dixon said. "All during the game, I thought. 'If I get that opportunity today, I will not be denied.' I can't live with that for another year."

And in a similar situation as a year ago, Dixon got the call on another handoff to the right side. All he needed was 1 yard. Dixon picked up good blocking and chose the correct crease through which to run. Dixon blasted ahead for a 4-yard gain.

"We've always had tons of faith him to pick up those yards," 49ers fullback Bruce Miller said. "In that one instance, he got tripped up and didn't make it. A.D. is a good runner. Put him in there and he was able to get it done."

It was Dixon's only rushing attempt of the game, but it was a big one. The 49ers did not have to consider a field goal, as the drive continued. Three plays later, Frank Gore scored on a 9-yard run that proved to be the winning points in the 49ers' 28-24 victory.

Dixon and the 49ers will be moving on to Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.

"He had to face a lot of competition to be back on this team and he stepped up," center Jonathan Goodwin said. "To see him a year later be in the same situation and pull it out, it says a lot about how hard he's worked."