Monday, September 23, 1991

49ERS TAKE A STEP FORWARD

By Nancy Gay
San Jose Mercury News

To listen to the 49ers tell it, their 27-10 victory Sunday over the miserable Los Angeles Rams was an affirmation of their talent, a renewal of franchise pride, of personal confidence.

So it wasn't the best-looking game around. The Rams were just plain awful, and the 49ers were just good enough. But what does it matter? The result means the 49ers, now an acceptable 2-2, can put a lid on those nagging doubts -- both internal and external -- at least for another week.

A fire-up speech from wide receiver Jerry Rice before the game helped set the mood, but the heat from the red-faced 49ers' 1-2 start was what fueled them the most.

That, and the prospect of 1-3.

''It came into my mind. I never wanted it to stay very long," said quarterback Steve Young, who completed 21 of 31 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns.

''We've got to understand, you think it's bad now, guys, we lost this ballgame, it's going to get a lot worse than this," said running back Spencer Tillman, summing up the pregame homily. "When you win a ballgame of this magnitude, you avoid some of the distractions that arise as the week goes on." That's what got the 49ers riled up during the past week, explaining to everyone, including themselves, how they continued to lose close games because of their own mistakes.

''You can't really focus on the next opponent, because you're so busy explaining what happened in the last game, particularly if you lose," Tillman said. "It's just human nature to inquire why things went wrong, as opposed to why things went right."

Out of sync

Nothing went right for the Rams, who limped home 1-3 after collecting only 272 yards. Jim Everett, the only NFL starting quarterback who hasn't thrown a scoring pass all season, was so out of sync -- 17 of 35, 219 yards -- you wanted to go out and complete a pass for him.

He did get a throw to a receiver in the end zone, all right. Too bad it was to 49ers free safety Todd Bowles. The third- quarter interception killed the Rams' big chance to pull ahead 17-13.

''He just had to get rid of the ball, and he threw me a blind pick," Bowles said. "It hit me right in the heart." It was that easy.

A few problems

When the 49ers picked up the first points on a 22-yard field goal by Mike Cofer with 11 minutes, 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter, it looked like an easy day. But it really wasn't.

Certainly the sheer magnitude of the Rams' ineptitude merely made the 49ers appear that much better. Yet selected poor 49ers performances did stand out, and will appear a lot worse today on film:

(check) Tillman failing to down a punt by Ralf Mojsiejenko at the Rams' 2-yard line with 3:31 left in the first quarter. Five plays later, cornerback Kevin Lewis blew his coverage on wide receiver Henry Ellard, who caught a 38-yard pass from Everett, putting the Rams at the 49ers' 2. Four plays later, Robert Delpino scored from 1 yard, putting the Rams in front 7-3.

(check) A special-teams collapse in the second quarter. Cofer hit a 30-yard field goal, but an illegal-motion penalty on lineman Dennis Brown nullified it. Tack on 5 more yards to the field-goal attempt, and take it off the board: Cofer's next try sailed wide left.

A 22-yard field goal by Tony Zendejas increased the Rams' lead to 10-3, with 41 seconds remaining before halftime.

Gaining a tie at halftime

Positives did abound, though. A spiffy, hurry-up scoring drive just before the half, reminiscent of the kind of magic Joe Montana could conjure up, was a huge boost to the 49ers' confidence.

They drove 65 yards in four plays, thanks to a 28-yard completion to Mike Sherrard that put them at the 12. Young found John Taylor (six catches for 81 yards) on the next play with a touchdown pass, tying the score.

''It's a confidence thing," said Young, smiling for the first time in weeks. "And I think we gained some confidence today."

Cofer rebounded with a 47-yard field goal that gave the 49ers a 13-10 lead with 6:48 left in the third quarter.

And Rice was at his finest, catching five passes for 99 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown pass from Young with 8:54 remaining that put the 49ers ahead 20-10.

Then there was a bonus prize. The maligned running game finally took off in the second half, with the 49ers picking up 131 of their 149 rushing yards in the final two quarters.

Harry Sydney, whose call seems to come late in the game, owned the 49ers' drive with 8:20 remaining. He ran seven times for 36 yards, then broke loose on a 25-yard cutback up the middle for a touchdown, giving the 49ers the final advantage.

Another key to the 49ers' success was their ability to score from inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

The 49ers ventured there three times and picked up a field goal and a touchdown, failing only when Cofer missed the field- goal attempt.

''Obviously there were a lot of happy players in the locker room today," said Coach George Seifert, counting himself among the pleased, and relieved.

But this is no time to relax, Tillman warned.

''From here on out, this is not going to get any easier," he said. "This was a great win for us, but it's not going to get any easier.

''There are teams across the league that would love to see us fold right now. Everything's in place -- Ronnie Lott's not here, Roger Craig's not here, Joe Montana's hurt. A lot of people want to see us fail, but we're not."