Monday, November 5, 1990


By Ric Bucher
San Jose Mercury News

There is a luxury in playing for the 49ers that no other team in the NFL enjoys, and it's not the money or gifts lavished upon them by owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

It's knowing that with wide receivers Jerry Rice and John Taylor, one mistake by the opposition can mean a touchdown.

"With people like that on your side," 49ers linebacker Matt Millen said, "you realize all you're looking for is one crack. If we keep the pressure on, and you make one mistake, we're going to beat you."

Sometimes, it doesn't even have to be a big mistake. For the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, it probably was something seemingly as harmless as a short kickoff that led to the evaporation of an early 10-0 lead and eventually a 24-20 loss.

The Niners (8-0) have a five-game lead in the NFC West and could clinch the division title in two weeks if they win twice and the second-place teams -- Atlanta, the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans -- each lose twice. The 49ers also extended their winning streak to 16 and their road winning streak to 17 and, a Packers spokesman said, became the first team to amass more than 400 yards -- 445, to be exact -- against a Green Bay team this season.

Against some other team, Packers Coach Lindy Infante's decision to kick short with 38 seconds left in the first half might have proved meaningless.

Against the 49ers, it meant a touchdown. Quarterback Joe Montana needed 21 seconds and three plays to move the Niners 59 yards and cut the Packers' lead to 10-7.

Taylor did the honors, running away from cornerback Jerry Holmes to snare a pass underneath the goalpost. Rice would do the same later, pulling away from cornerback Mark Lee to turn a short pass into a 64-yard romp for the TD that provided the winning points.

''The guy slipped and that's all it took," Montana said of Lee.

The set-up to Taylor's TD was a little more involved. Infante said he decided to try a "power squib" because of the stiff wind in kicker Chris Jacke's face. It took fullback Harry Sydney 6 seconds to scoop up the ball and return it 19 yards to the Niners' 41.

''It was really blowing," Infante said of the wind. "They were having trouble with it and so were we. We tried to power- squib it so they couldn't organize a return and get it upfield. I would do it again. I have no second thoughts."

It took three passes to put the Niners in the end zone -- a 7-yarder to Tom Rathman, a 29-yarder to Rice and a 23-yarder for the score to Taylor. Offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren, who had left the coaches' box before the drive began, heard about the score from an attendant in the Niners' locker room.

Backup quarterback Steve Young and Coach George Seifert consequently filled in for Holmgren. No slight to Holmgren, but Seifert said, "I think that was a key series in the game."

It certainly compensated for an otherwise lackluster first half, played in temperatures that fell into the 30s but without the snow that had been forecast. The Packers (3-5) probably should have been ahead by more than 10-7. They scored on a 30- yard Jacke field goal in the first quarter and a 20-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Sterling Sharpe in the second. But Green Bay might have had more than the field goal in the first quarter if not for a hit by safety Ronnie Lott on third- and-two. Lott held Sharpe to a 1-yard reception. On came the field-goal unit.

Then there was Green Bay's second-quarter boomerang drive. The Packers took possession an the Niners' 47 and drove to the 32 before a holding penalty and a Larry Roberts' sack pushed them back to the 49ers' 49.

The Niners, meanwhile, were being pinned down in their own territory until the first-half TD drive. Their one foray past the 50 ended because of an offside call against tackle Bubba Paris on a 47-yard field-goal attempt. The Niners punted.

Credit all that to the Packers stopping the Big Three: Montana, Taylor and Rice. Montana was 9 for 15 for 80 yards entering the TD drive. Rice had one catch for 8 yards. Taylor had one for 11.

''I felt that their defense, particularly early in the game, played very, very well," Seifert said.

Not so at the end of the first half, or for most of the second. After their first third-quarter drive ended with a shanked 30-yard field-goal attempt, the Niners scored on their next two possessions, using a 22-yard Mike Cofer field goal and a 6-yard touchdown catch by tight end Brent Jones to go ahead 17-10. ''They were buzzing people hard to our outsides, especially on our receivers, so we tried to take advantage of things in the flat," said Montana, who finished with 411 yards passing.

Packers quarterback Don Majkowski, meanwhile, was taking advantage of cornerback Eric Wright. Sharpe's second-quarter TD and his 17-yard score with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left in the game came with Wright covering him man-to-man. ''He didn't do anything extraordinary," said a crestfallen Wright. "From my standpoint, I'm just not covering."

He wasn't alone. Despite a pass rush that sacked him four times and constantly forced him to throw on the run, Majkowski completed 22 of 33 for 274 yards and two touchdowns. None of his passes was intercepted.

''What was surprising was all the licks he was taking and he wasn't going down," said pass-rush specialist Charles Haley, who had one sack to increase his team-leading total to 10.

The Packers' offense, in fact, refused to crumple. They responded to Jones' TD with a 37-yard field goal by Jacke, cutting the lead to four with more than 8:17 left. Had Green Bay stopped the Niners' next drive, maybe Majkowski could have led a drive akin to the one that gave The Pack a 21-17 upset last season.