Monday, December 9, 1991

49ERS STIRRING PLAYOFF BREW

By Nancy Gay
San Jose Mercury News

Whew!

Forget the coffee this morning. For your daily jolt, wind the tape to the final, oh, minute and a half of Sunday's 49ers game. For perspective, hark to 1988 -- the season and the Super Bowl. And buckle your seat belt.

The 49ers were down 22-17, with their 1991 playoff hopes totally on the line, when quarterback Steve Bono led them on a furious four-play, 56-yard drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown post pass to wide receiver John Taylor.

In a wild one at the Kingdome: 49ers 24, Seattle Seahawks 22. You may exhale now.

With the victory, the 49ers -- a mediocre 4-6 just four weeks ago -- are now 8-6 and still are participants in the all- out NFC playoff grapple. The Seahawks (6-8) are all but finished in the AFC's postseason derby.

Sound familiar? Recall that in 1988, the 49ers rebounded from 6-5 with a four-game winning streak, went on to the Super Bowl and found themselves in similar dire straights at the end. They were down 16-13 with 3:20 remaining when Joe Montana led them on a 92-yard drive capped by -- yes! -- a 10-yard touchdown pass to Taylor.

''Today was the same as it used to happen with the 49ers," said nose tackle Jim Burt, who started his first game this season for the injured Michael Carter. "The last couple of weeks we've been able to do what the 49ers are supposed to do. Our confidence is growing."

With this comeback team, their self-doubt diminishes with cardiac finishes. ''I think the momentum is starting to change now because we're not happy with the situation we got ourselves into," said wide receiver Jerry Rice, who caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. "We kept talking on the sidelines, saying, 'OK, we're going to make something happen.' We were saying it would go down to the wire, and it did."

Seven turnovers -- five by the 49ers -- hastened the desperation. Down five starters because of injuries, the 49ers defense forced Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg's fumble on the Seahawks' final drive to preserve the victory. With the 49ers minus two injured starting quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young, Bono -- the winner of four consecutive games -- completed 25 of 44 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns. His two fourth-quarter interceptions were harmless. And the expected quarterback controversy this week, now that Young is ready to return from knee surgery?

''I think that Bono is obviously doing an outstanding job and the team has a sense of his abilities," said 49ers Coach George Seifert in the best endorsement for Bono anyone could extract.

As for the game, "We've been in some pretty exciting games since I've been here," Seifert said, rambling. "But to win a game like that, as meaningful as it is to keep ourselves in the hunt, so to speak . . ."

It was never easy, but nothing has been this season.

The 49ers entered the final quarter maintaining a 17-16 advantage. But Dexter Carter's fumbled kickoff return in the closing seconds of the third quarter gave Seattle the ball at the 49ers' 27-yard line. Seven plays later, Seahawks kicker John Kasay's 25-yard field goal put Seattle ahead 19-17.

A 38-yard field goal by Kasey with 6:15 remaining pushed the Seahawks' lead to 22-17, and a 49ers turnover on the next series made the 49ers look even more like goners. Bono's bullet pass to Carter went through the running back's hands and was intercepted by Seattle's Joe Cain at the Seahawks' 12.

The 49ers' next try ended in another interception, when Bono's pass to Taylor was picked off by free safety Eugene Robinson. But the defense held, Rick Tuten's shanked punt gave the 49ers field position at the Seattle 44 and Bono threw a 41- yard pass to Taylor on first down. Two plays later, on to the heroics.

The Seahawks -- using seven defensive backs -- double- covered Rice and Taylor, but when tight end Brent Jones went into motion Robinson followed him, opening up Taylor.

''I knew I didn't have Jerry," Bono said. "I came back side and saw Brent running through. Actually, I thought I'd have Brent, but when he ran through, the safety went with him. Then I knew I'd have John in the hole."

Taylor finished with a game-high 113 yards on seven receptions, although he strained his left knee in the first quarter.

The Seahawks rushed nine times for 62 yards in their first series, picking up a touchdown and a 6-0 lead on a 1-yard run by James Jones with 5:44 remaining in the first quarter. But Krieg, , the holder on extra points, bobbled the snap and the PAT never got off.

Bono's 3-yard scoring pass to Harry Sydney put the 49ers ahead 7-6 with 8:34 remaining in the second quarter. But a muffed punt return by fill-in cornerback Kevin Lewis set up a 37-yard field goal by Kasay that gave Seattle a 9-7 lead. Mike Cofer's 50-yard field goal with 1:02 remaining before halftime put the 49ers ahead 10-9.

Linebacker Bill Romanowski recovered James Jones' fumble at the Seattle 23-yard line, setting up Bono's 9-yard touchdown pass to Rice with 13:10 left in the third quarter.

The Seahawks kept it close when Bono -- sacked 13 yards by Cortez Kennedy -- fumbled, and Seattle's Tony Woods recovered at the 49ers' 4-yard line. Two plays later, John L. Williams ran 5 yards for a touchdown, cutting the 49ers lead to 17-16.