By Bill Coats

SAN FRANCISCO ó At 5 feet 8, Dante Hall is the shortest player on the Rams' roster. Yet he stood tall Sunday in a gritty 13-9 victory over the San Francisco *****.

"He's not a big guy," quarterback Marc Bulger noted, "but he's fearless."

Hall, a wide receiver/kick returner who weighs 187 pounds, proved that on his first series back since suffering a high-ankle sprain six weeks ago. On the sixth snap after kickoff, running back Steven Jackson burst through the left side.

As Jackson advanced into the secondary, cornerback Nate Clements bore down on him from the right. But before the 6-1, 215-pound Clements could get close, Hall knocked him out of Jackson's path. The 37-yard gain led to the only touchdown of the day.

"I didn't really get a great look at it," Jackson said, "but I knew (Hall) was the reason why the run was able to spring for a nice chunk of yards."

Hall was happy to be dishing out the contact for a change. "Any time you get a chance to be the hitter instead of the hittee, you've got to take that opportunity. ... I had him lined up, and I couldn't believe he wasn't looking at me. His eyes are on Steven the whole time. He never saw me."

In his second full game back after groin and back injuries, Jackson carried a big load again. After picking up 100 yards on 27 touches ó 22 carries and five catches ó last week in a 37-29 victory at New Orleans, Jackson got another 27 Sunday ó 23 carries for 92 yards and four receptions for 20 yards.

"It was pretty tough yards," he said. "We got off to a good start, but they made some adjustments and ... were able to start making things a little harder."

Jackson actually reached 100 yards rushing early in the fourth quarter. But he lost ground on subsequent carries, as the ***** keyed on the run with the Rams trying to protect their slim advantage.

Still, Jackson's presence can't be underestimated, Bulger stressed. "It's big; he brings that juice we need," he said. "Defenses have to be cautious. When they know he's running the ball, it's tough to blitz from all these angles because if we go the opposite way, he can break it."

Jackson reported no physical problems afterward and said his outlook had improved, too. "I feel a lot better about how things are going," he said. "The type of runner I am, as the season goes on and the game goes on, I get stronger. I'm feeling really good right now."

The Rams were clinging to a 10-3 lead just seconds into the fourth quarter when Hall came up big again. He took a 51-yard punt from Andy Lee and scampered 29 yards to the Niners' 33-yard line.

"We got the right type of kick, on a low line, and then some great blocking," Hall said. "When I caught it, I looked up and guys were on guys, had them covered up pretty well."

Seven plays later, Jeff Wilkins knocked through a 35-yard field goal, giving the Rams a two-score edge at 13-3. Hall "put us in a good spot," Bulger said. "We were able to get three, and that turned out to be really important."

And suddenly the Rams are on a bit of a roll, with NFC West leader Seattle coming to town next Sunday.

"I'm just glad we're getting this thing turned around," Hall said. "Guys haven't checked out yet, they're still believing in what (coach Scott) Linehan has going, and they're still competing.

"It's fun to be on a team like that, because it very easily could be the other way."