Monday, September 17, 1990


Los Angeles Times

SAN FRANCISCO -- When the Washington Redskins kicked off to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, there was a perception that the 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Redskins are the National Football League's three best teams - if not in that order.

Before the end of the third quarter, however, the Redskins had dropped out - at least for the time being - when they could not score a touchdown against a San Francisco linebacker, Matt Millen, with first and goal at the San Francisco 1-foot line.

As the 49ers returned toward respectability after a slow Monday night in New Orleans, their timely goal-line stand made the defensive team a partner with Joe Montana and the offense in a 26-13 conquest of one of the NFC East's best teams.

Montana passed 44 times, completing 29 for 390 yards and two touchdowns, to keep the champions ahead from the first quarter on, although, at a critical moment in the second half, he threw the only interception of a game that was played with no fumbles and no sacks.

''This was a big step up from the way we looked [in New Orleans,'' Montana said. ''You can't throw without great protection.''

Said 49ers coach George Seifert: ''This was the best we've played as a team [since the Super Bowl, but we did give up some big plays.''

The biggest, potentially, was Redskin quarterback Mark Rypien's 40-yard third-quarter pass to wide receiver Gary Clark, who was driven out of bounds at the 49ers' 1-foot line by their new safety, Dave Waymer.

The 49ers were leading 20-10, but they hadn't made a first down since the second quarter.

Waymer's touchdown-saving tackle was followed by the goal-line stand that featured Millen on all three downs. On the third, he crashed through to sack Rypien for a 2-yard loss.

The Redskins took a field goal there, closing to 20-13, but they had lost an opportunity.

In his big third quarter, Rypien twice moved the Redskins into touchdown position before the 49ers twice forced them into field-goal formation, and then blocked one of the two field-goal attempts.

''We should have gotten more than three points there,'' Rypien said. ''We got ourselves back into the ballgame, but . . .''

Too much defense.

Said Redskin coach Joe Gibbs: ''We had our opportunities, but we just didn't get the job done. When we blitzed Montana, he hit the slants [pattern pass routes.''

Too much Montana.

In retrospect, it seems likely that the 49ers' indifferent game in the Louisiana Superdome Monday night was because it was the season opener.

''We hardly ever played our starters more than a quarter in the preseason,'' Seifert said. ''So against the Saints, we were out of sync.''

Most noticeably in New Orleans, Montana was ''out of sync'' with his wide receivers, Jerry Rice and John Taylor.

But after practicing with them through another week, Montana threw eight passes to Taylor for 160 yards and six to Rice for 74 against the Redskins.

Together, they outproduced Washington's so-called posse - wide receivers Art Monk, Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark - of whom only Clark stood out, with seven catches for 106 yards.

The Washington problem seemed to be Rypien's nervousness. He is an accurate passer, and he has the arm to throw the football as far as he wants to, but on the same field with Montana he seemed to lack some confidence.

Rypien drove the Redskins repeatedly - and often impressively - but only once all the way. Typical of the lapses that hurt Washington was Rypien's second-quarter pass to a well-covered deep receiver, Monk, when another Redskin, halfback Kelvin Bryant, was open 10 yards away in Monk's direction.

Montana would have seen Bryant easily, and quickly. Rypien only had eyes for Monk, who could not catch it when surrounded by Ronnie Lott.

''[The Redskins had us reeling,'' 49er linebacker Millen said in a reference to Rypien's numerous long drives. ''But on the big plays, we had just the right [defensive calls from the bench.''

Mike Cofer kicked four field goals as San Francisco scored on six of its first eight possessions, sprinkling in six plays gaining more than 20 yards while rolling up 487 yards in total offense.