Monday, December 25, 1989

MONTANA GAINS HIGHEST RATING

SAN FRANCISCO - The team of the '80s ended the decade with a bang on Sunday, while the once-mighty Chicago Bears went out with a whimper.

Joe Montana put the cap on a record-breaking regular season as the San Francisco 49ers beat the Bears 26-0 and set their sights on the first Super Bowl of the '90s.

''It's been an extremely exciting 10 years, no question about it,'' rookie coach George Seifert said after the 49ers (14-2) wrapped up their second-best record ever. No other NFL team won more than 11 games.

''I feel very fortunate to have been part of it,'' Seifert said. ''The trick now is to keep it going.''

Montana threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice and set an NFL season record for highest quarterback rating as the 49ers won their fifth consecutive game and the Bears dropped their sixth in a row. Mike Cofer kicked four field goals and won the NFL scoring title with 136 points.

''I think we feel good about what we did today,'' Montana said, shrugging off talk of personal achievements. ''It took a while to get things going, but our defense just played a heck of a game.''

The 49ers, whose only better record was 15-1 in 1984 en route to their second of three Super Bowls in the '80s, will have a week off before playing host to a playoff game.

Chicago coach Mike Ditka vowed the Bears would bounce back after ''hitting bottom'' with 10 losses in their last 12 games.

''Somewhere along the line we lost our confidence,'' Ditka said. ''I don't really believe we're that bad a football team, although I guess you have to believe that after today.

''It was a bad day and it's been a sad season, but they come and go. We've had a lot of great seasons. If all of a sudden football passed us by in '89, and I don't think it did, then I'd say we change the system. But we just haven't executed very well.''

The Bears went scoreless for the first time since a 41-0 loss at Candlestick Park on Dec. 14, 1987. Their last shutout before that also took place in San Francisco - 23-0 in the NFC championship game on Jan. 6, 1985.

Chicago missed the playoffs for the first time since 1983. The last time the Bears finished a full season with a worse record was 1975, when they were 4-10.

''At times like this I only wish I could have contributed more,'' said Chicago's All-Pro middle linebacker Mike Singletary, who left the game in the first half with bruised ribs. ''It's been a tough season, but not the toughest ever. I can play better, much better, and so can this team. Our good early start proved that.''

Montana returned from a one-week layoff due to sore ribs and completed 10 of 21 passes for 106 yards and an interception before Steve Young replaced him early in the third quarter. Montana finished the season with a quarterback rating of 112.4, surpassing Milt Plum's record of 110.4 with the Cleveland Browns in 1960.

The Bears' four first-half turnovers set up 10 San Francisco points and sent them toward their 10th loss in 12 games following a 4-0 start.

Cofer's 29-yard field goal gave the 49ers the lead after the first turnover, a high pass by Mike Harbaugh that bounced off wide receiver Ron Morris' hands to cornerback Don Griffin just inside the Chicago 40.

San Francisco took control with 10 points in the final half-minute of the first half.

Nursing a 6-0 lead following Cofer's second field goal, a 24-yarder, they drove 63 yards in their two-minute offense for the game's first touchdown. Rice, who had dropped two passes earlier, caught three passes on the drive and fooled reserve cornerback Lorenzo Lynch at the line to break free down the right sideline for Montana's touchdown pass with 29 seconds left.