SANTA CLARA Rookie receiver Quinton Patton, who was slowed during training camp with a broken finger, will miss a chunk of the season with a broken foot, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday.
Patton, who seemed poised to take over as the team's No. 2 receiver early in Thursday's win over the St. Louis Rams, suffered the injury in the first half shortly after making his first NFL reception for no gain.
Harbaugh said the injury to a metacarpal bone was not significant enough to put Patton on injured reserve, meaning the rookie is expected to play again this season. Patton became an instant fan favorite once his finger healed in mid-August. In two exhibition games, he caught six passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns, including a 43-yard score.
Aside from starter Anquan Boldin, none of the 49ers' wide receivers has made an impact this season; and, since May, Harbaugh and his coaches have been looking for one of Boldin's understudies to step forward.
Harbaugh had more strong praise Friday for Jon Baldwin, who made his 49ers debut against the Rams with two catches for 19 yards.
"He's got a competitive heart," Harbaugh said.
Asked what he meant, Harbaugh said he couldn't articulate it but that it was a sense he had about Baldwin, whom the 49ers acquired in a trade with Kansas City last month. He said his sense was similar to how a birdwatcher can identify a specific species by its "gist."
"I feel like sometimes I have an eye for a competitive heart," Harbaugh said. "I see it in Jon."
After Patton left the game, Kyle Williams resumed his previous role as the No. 2 receiver, playing 22 of the team's 69 snaps. Williams, who has nine catches for 87 yards this season, did not have a catch against the Rams.
Baldwin was next among wideouts with 16 snaps. Natomas High's Marlon Moore, a starter in the preseason, was inactive Thursday.
Two other wideouts, Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree, are on the non-football injury list. Manningham, who suffered an ACL tear in December, is eligible to rejoin practice in two and a half weeks.
As for Joe Staley, who went down with a leg injury with 1:50 remaining in the game, Harbaugh reiterated that the 49ers appeared to have "dodged a bullet." That is, Staley is sore but not seriously injured.
What penalty? The NFL did not fine safety Donte Whitner for the opening-play hit that drew an unnecessary roughness penalty Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Whitner said the league told the 49ers it was a legal hit.
He was penalized for the same infraction Thursday after a big hit on Rams wideout Chris Givens in the end zone. Whitner said he's not sure how the league wants him to react.
"I think I'm just supposed to let them catch a touchdown now," Whitner said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "I think that's what the National Football League wants, but I'm not going to give them that."
Whitner said he doesn't expect to be fined for the hit on Givens because it, too, was legal.
"And I even backed off a little bit, turned and gave him my shoulder," Whitner said. "So I don't know what I was supposed to do in that situation or what they want me to do."
Up for grabs One defensive player Harbaugh cited Friday was cornerback Tramaine Brock, who filled in for injured Nnamdi Asomugha as the team's No. 3 cornerback against the Rams. Brock's outing included a tipped pass that Whitner intercepted.
Harbaugh said it's possible that Brock will retain that role even when Asomugha returns from his injury.
Read Matthew Barrows' blogs at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.