Monday, January 15, 1990

MONTANA ALMOST FLAWLESS AS 49ERS SHEAR RAMS 30-3


By Bernie Miklasz
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


SAN FRANCISCO --The Team of the '80s isn't stopping now, just because it's a new decade. Attention, jewelry store owners: It's almost time to order some more Super Bowl rings for the San Francisco 49ers, who have their greedy fingers extended for a fourth fitting.

Using the precision passing of quarterback Joe Montana, who was virtually flawless in completing 26 of 30 passes, the 49ers routed the Los Angeles Rams 30-3 Sunday in the National Football Conference championship game before 64,769 at Candlestick Park.

"It was vintage Joe,'' 49ers head coach George Seifert said. ''He just keeps getting better and better.''

The 49ers advanced to Super Bowl XIV on Jan. 28 in New Orleans. A victory over the Denver Broncos would give the 49ers four Super Bowl titles, tying the National Football League record held by the Pittsburgh Steelers' teams of the 1970s.

The 49ers (16-2) also will be attempting to become the first team to win successive NFL championships since the 1978-79 Steelers. And you have to like their chances. The 49ers are 3-0 in Super Bowls; the Broncos are 0-3.

And Montana wants one more.

''Last year when we got our rings,'' 49ers linebacker Michael Walter said, ''Joe said something to us. 'I've done a lot, but one thing I really want to do is repeat. We haven't done that yet.' In the time I've been here, I've heard Joe say maybe three things. When he talks like that, we listen.''

The Big Red Machine keeps chewing up anyone in the way. In their two playoff victories, the 49ers have outscored the Minnesota Vikings and Rams by a combined 71-16 score. Wow!

The Rams were considered a legitimate threat to upset the 49ers but fizzled after taking a 3-0 lead early in the game.

Montana quickly and efficiently ended any debate concerning his status as the NFL's best quarterback, outclassing a nervous Jim Everett in a typical big-game deliverance.

''The poise that Joe shows in these kind of games is just amazing,'' Seifert said.

An emerging leader, Everett played brilliantly in the two playoff victories that pushed the Rams to their date with the 49ers. But when Montana smells postseason money, look out. No one is better, and Montana carved up the Rams all afternoon with short passes.

Montana completed 18 of 21 passes for 198 yards in the first half, staking the 49ers to a 21-3 lead. Then he spent most of the second half handing off to his big backs, Roger Craig and Tom Rathman, who wore down the Rams in the mud to set up three Mike Cofer field goals.

Montana's two touchdown passes gave him 31 for his postseason career, breaking the record of 30 by Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw.

The 49ers put together a devastating mix. Craig rushed 23 times for 93 yards and a touchdown. Rathman rushed for 63 yards and caught six passes for 48 yards. Eight different 49ers caught Montana passes. The 49ers rolled up 442 yards and 29 first downs.

Everett was intercepted three times and completed only 16 of 36 passes for 141 yards. His big-play receiver, Flipper Anderson, was held to one catch.

In the first quarter, while the Rams still had a chance, Everett badly underthrew Anderson on a bomb that should have resulted in a touchdown. It was an omen.

The Rams may prove to be the Team of the '90s. And the promising Everett may be the heir to Montana's throne. But the 49ers, and Montana, weren't willing to abdicate.

The unofficial surrender came late in the third quarter when a harried Everett elected to fall down, untouched, as the 49ers' pass rushers closed in on him. Forget a comeback; mentally, the Rams were finished. Everett brought the Rams from behind to beat the New York Giants a week earlier, but there would be no Everett miracles on this day.

''We took the fight out of him,'' 49ers defensive end Larry Roberts said. ''We knew that when he went down.''

The Rams managed only 156 total yards and nine first downs, and ran only 47 plays to the Niners' 76. The 49ers had a huge edge in possession time, 39 minutes 48 seconds to 20:12.

''They dominated,'' Rams coach John Robinson said, ''and that's an understatement.''

In reality, Montana put the game away late in the first half, engineering an immaculate drive that must rank as one of the best in his 11-year career.

Leading 14-3, the 49ers started at their 13-yard line with 3:10 remaining. What happened from there will go on the Montana highlight reel. Officially, Montana took them 87 yards in 14 plays. But en route, the 49ers had to overcome a 15-yard penalty, meaning that the drive actually covered 102 yards. The 49ers went the final 82 yards after the two-minute warning.

''We've got the kind of man who can handle that situation better than anyone else in football,'' Seifert said. ''He's the best there's ever been.''

Montana completed eight of 10 passes in the drive, distributing the ball to five different receivers, and hit John Taylor between two defensive backs for an 18-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds remaining. That put the Rams down by 18 points, 21-3, and they could have gone home to Disneyland.

''Montana just spun our heads around,'' said Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene of Granite City. ''We couldn't stop him. He just kept finding his guys.''

The Rams' defense, which allowed more yards passing than any other NFL team this season, was helpless. Remarkably, Montana's longest completion of the game went for only 20 yards. The scalpel, not the bomb, was Montana's weapon of choice.

After Mike Lansford kicked a 30-yard field goal on the Rams' first possession for a 3-0 lead, Montana put the 49ers ahead to stay with a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Jones with 3:33 elapsed in the second quarter.

The Rams began to self-destruct. An Everett pass was tipped by cornerback Don Griffin and intercepted by nickel back Tim McKyer, who returned it 27 yards to the Los Angeles 27-yard line. It set up Craig's 1-yard touchdown for a 14-3 lead.

Montana had one more left: The Drive. Now, the 49ers have only one more game left: The Super Bowl. The Broncos had better bring their best defense.