Monday, December 10, 1990


Associated Press

CINCINNATI -- Joe Montana and Jerry Rice gave the Cincinnati Bengals another last-minute heartbreak Sunday.

The San Francisco 49ers' explosive passing combination set up a game-tying field goal by Mike Cofer with 57 seconds left in regulation, then teamed to set up the game-winning kick in overtime for a 20-17 victory.

The Bengals' last four games against the 49ers have wound up last-minute losses, including the last time they met - the Super Bowl two years ago, when Rice and Montana starred in a decisive 92-yard drive.

''We play our best football when everything's on the line,'' said Rice, who had eight catches Sunday for 101 yards. ''Once we got the ball, I knew we were going to score.''

The 49ers (12-1) got the ball back with 4 minutes 11 seconds to play after Ickey Woods' 1-yard touchdown run had put the Bengals ahead 17-14. Montana drove them to Cofer's game-tying 23-yard field goal.

The 49ers then won the toss and took possession at their 19. Montana hit Rice with passes of 14 and 17 yards to cross midfield, and converted a third and 6 with a 7-yard pass to Rice, setting up the winning kick.

The Bengals (7-6) had trouble accepting another such loss.

''We beat that team,'' safety David Fulcher said. ''It goes the same way again. We beat them and then we give it up.''


A lot of other teams have had the same problems against Montana and Rice, but it was little consolation for the Bengals, who slid into a three-way tie for first place in the American Football Conference Central Division.

Coach Sam Wyche cut his postgame comments short. ''I'm getting tired,'' he said. ''I hate to see a game go that way. That's the way it is.''

The Bengals have lost their last seven against the 49ers, including their 20-16 Super Bowl defeat two years ago on Montana's pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left. The last time they met in the regular season, the Bengals failed to run out the clock, leaving Montana time to throw a desperation touchdown pass to Rice as time expired at Riverfront Stadium.

These last-minute losses may be getting old to Wyche, but Montana, his former pupil, enjoyed a repeat ending.

''I think the world of Sam,'' Montana said. ''It's like beating your best friend. You know how he feels, but in a lot of cases there's nobody you like beating better.''

Once again, Montana's brilliance under last-minute pressure was the difference.

Woods' 1-yard touchdown run put Cincinnati ahead 17-14 with 12:26 to play, and the Bengals held the 49ers on their next possession. But the Bengals offense stalled, giving the ball back to Montana with 4:11 to play. He drove the team 55 yards in seven plays and set up the tying kick.

Montana started the drive with a 29-yard pass to Rice, who had only one reception last Monday in a 7-3 victory over the New York Giants.

In overtime, Rice shook free in front of a Bengals secondary that lost safety Rickey Dixon to a broken leg late in the fourth quarter.

The victory was the 49ers' 17th in a row on the road, extending their NFL record. Montana finished 19 of 26 passing for 185 yards and one interception.

(Following text ran in the 3* Edition only)

The Bengals offense put together two touchdown drives against a defense missing strong safety Ronnie Lott, out because of sprained knees. Boomer Esiason threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Craig Taylor on the Bengals' first possession, and Woods put them ahead with his 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.

It was a marked improvement for the Bengals offense, which failed to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl loss two years ago.

Their defense made the same mistakes again, however, allowing Montana to pick and choose his receivers. The 49ers also revived their ground game, as Roger Craig carried 21 times for 97 yards.

After Esiason put the Bengals ahead early, Montana led a 73-yard, 17-play drive that tied it and sapped Cincinnati's enthusiasm. San Francisco converted four third-down plays on the drive, and Tom Rathman scored on a 1-yard run on fourth down. Three times, Montana kept the drive alive by completing third-down passes.

The Bengals regained their spark at the start of the second half, driving 51 yards and setting up Jim Breech's 38-yard field goal. The Bengals had a 20-yard touchdown pass from Esiason to James Brooks nullified by an illegal motion penalty, their first penalty of the game, and had to settle for the field goal.

The 49ers responded with a 74-yard drive primarily on the ground, capped by Harry Sydney's 3-yard touchdown run behind a crushing block from Rathman late in the third quarter.

Woods then took over. He had runs of 21 and 13 yards and caught a 7-yard pass on the drive to his go-ahead touchdown.