Sunday, December 15, 1991


New York Times News Service

SAN FRANCISCO -- His left knee was banged up and bandaged, but Steve Bono, the new heartthrob of San Francisco, had already won the game and kept the 49ers hopeful for another day. By the third quarter, his understudy had taken over.

While Bono stood next to Joe Montana on the sideline and watched Saturday, Steve Young played most of the second half of a 28-14 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Candlestick Park.

The victory, the 49ers' fifth in a row, didn't unravel their complicated playoff situation, but it did keep San Francisco from being eliminated Saturday. In Chicago, the Bears clarified their position by beating Tampa Bay and clinching a playoff berth.

San Francisco's Bono, the former third-string quarterback who is now everyman's favorite, completed 24 of 33 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns, leaving with a 21-0 lead that was handed to Young. Bono did not return after suffering a sprained left knee that left him with only a 50 percent chance of playing next week.

Young took the the 49ers (9-6) to a fourth-quarter score and a 28-7 lead when Dexter Carter sprinted 53 yards for a touchdown. But there is no quarterback controversy boiling here. If Bono, who has now thrown three touchdown passes in each of the last three games, can't play next Monday night in his team's regular-season finale, against the Bears, Young would again take his place.

Even with their victory, the 49ers have no playoff guarantees. They could still be knocked out if Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit and Dallas win Sunday.

The Chiefs (9-6), shut out in the first half, scored twice in the second half - once when Barry Word took three plays to run 69 yards for a third-quarter score. But their last chance ended when Steve DeBerg had a pass intercepted by safety Dave Waymer inside the 49ers' 25-yard line with about four minutes left.

Jerry Rice and John Taylor each had seven catches and one touchdown for San Francisco. Word rushed for 115 yards in 17 carries.

The Chiefs had already qualified for the playoffs, but the 49ers began the afternoon in their typical state of uncertainty. All they really knew was this: lose, and they were eliminated from contention; win, and all kinds of things could happen.

As Bono said earlier this week in a failed attempt to sort things out for the news media: ''I know that we can win these last two games and win the division, and I know that we can win these two games and not make the playoffs. Somewhere in between is the rest of it.''

The 49ers surely must have felt fortunate on two fronts. One, Kansas City was already in, and its only reason for wanting this game was a chance - and a slim one at that - to take the division title from the Denver Broncos.

Two, because that possibility was unlikely, the Chiefs rested their locomotive running back, Christian Okoye, who didn't practice all week and was listed as inactive because of a knee injury.

So that made the game manageable for the 49ers, who led by 14-0 at halftime but could have been ahead by 17 points had Mike Cofer not been wide with a routine 36-yard field g oal late in the first period.

It didn't seem important, not the way the Chiefs looked. Mark Vlasic, named to start at quarterback ahead of the struggling Steve DeBerg, stumbled his way through the opening quarter, completing just two of six passes and then giving up the ball on a fumble when he was sacked by Charles Haley on the first play of the second period at his own 26.

The 49ers turned it into a touchdown in four plays, beginning with a Bono pass to John Taylor for 13 yards and ending with Bono throwing to Taylor again, this time for 9 more and a 14-0 lead.

The Chiefs later reported that Vlasic had sustained a sprained left knee on the sack and turnover, although he didn't appear to be hobbling on the sidelines. But it still allowed coach Marty Schottenheimer to send in DeBerg, the former 49er, who had limited success and no points.