SANTA CLARA -- Left tackle Joe Staley is in the midst of another Pro Bowl-caliber season that, only two months ago, seemed in dire jeopardy.
Staley writhed in pain late in the 49ers' 35-11 win at St. Louis. He feared a broken left ankle. Upon further review by the X-ray machine, it was only a sprain.
After that diagnosis, Staley calmed concerned fans through Twitter, posting: "I'm good. And I scream like no dude should ever scream lol my bad."
Staley can laugh now about that scene as he prepares for Sunday's rematch with the Rams at Candlestick Park.
"Yeah, that was funny, I guess," Staley recalled Wednesday of that Sept. 26 game.
Staley's mindset didn't change as if he gained a new lease on the season. Instead, he's consistently plowed ahead and protected Colin Kaepernick's blind side.
"Joe's phenomenal. He's someone you never have to worry about him doing his job," Kaepernick said. "He's going to do it every time, and he's going to excel at it."
Staley's task Sunday will be to keep Robert Quinn from adding to his total of 13 sacks, the league's second-most behind Indianapolis' Robert Mathis (14½).
Quinn, a 2011 first-round draft pick, sacked Kaepernick once in the Sept. 26 meeting. He had 1½ sacks in the Nov. 11, 2012 tie in which Kaepernick replaced a concussion-weary Alex Smith.
"He's played the same since he got in the league," Staley said of Quinn. "He's just having a lot of success this year getting to the quarterback. The thing I see most improved -- his pass rush has always been there -- this year he's doing a great job in the run game, as well."
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the same about Quinn during a conference call with Bay Area media. Then Fisher offered compliments Staley's way.
"Joe handles everybody every week," Fisher said. "He's one of the top tackles in the league, not only from a pass-protection standpoint but also he's an outstanding run blocker."
Staley grades out as the league's top tackle, according to ProFootballFocus.com, which has assigned him two of Kaepernick's 26 sacks this season.
"I feel like I'm playing pretty well," Staley said. "I feel like I'm taking it one game at a time and just trying to do my job. I don't know whatever it ranks." Michael Crabtree (Achilles tendon) practiced fully, shortly after coach Jim Harbaugh refused to publicly commit to Crabtree making his season debut Sunday. "Hope for the best and we'll have a plan if he's not able to go. It's pretty much that simple," Harbaugh said. Donte Whitner claimed he won his appeal of a $21,000 fine the league levied for a touchdown-saving hit on Chris Givens in the 49ers' Sept. 26 win over the Rams. Whitner now is crusading for a replay process that could overturn penalties. "If we do all those things right and get penalized for doing those things right, then we're just being counterproductive," he said. "So we need to do something about that as far as NFL, as far as players, because it's going to cost somebody a big game." Ahmad Brooks is expecting to hear this week on his appeal of a $15,750 fine he drew for his controversial hit on New Orleans' Drew Brees. Brooks presented his case Tuesday to the league's Matt Birk, who also heard Whitner's appeal. Brooks contended he didn't hit Brees in the neck, adding: "I did mention I was going against somebody who's 6-foot-7 (right tackle Zach Streif), turned the corner and had to adjust to a 6-foot quarterback, and that's difficult." Justin Smith was credited with two sacks of Washington's Robert Griffin III on Monday night, upon further review by the Elias Sports Bureau. Statisticians originally counted Griffin's scrambles as runs that lost yardage. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman (knee, shoulder) did not participate in Wednesday's light practice, nor did Smith (shoulder), wide receiver Mario Manningham (knee), cornerback Tarell Brown (ribs), guard Mike Iupati (knee), tight end Garrett Celek (hamstring) or defensive tackle Ray McDonald, who said he only began running Tuesday on his injured left ankle. Wideout Quinton Patton returned to practice in a limited capacity for the first time since breaking his foot at St. Louis. Also limited were Brooks (stinger), running back Frank Gore (ankle) and linebackers Aldon Smith (shoulder) and Dan Skuta (foot). Quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson cleared waivers and returned to the 49ers, albeit on their practice squad. Brooks, Whitner, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith received ceremonial game balls for their defensive efforts Monday night, Harbaugh said.
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