Monday, September 16, 1991


By Nancy Gay
San Jose Mercury News

Not so long ago, the 49ers could scoff at mistake-prone teams and revel in their own innate ability to avoid such costly embarrassments.

But that was before. And what happened Sunday before 59,148 fans at the Metrodome was no joke.

The Minnesota Vikings, looking crisp and confident, took advantage of every 49ers foible and flaunted their own mental superiority, winning 17-14 and forcing plenty of questions in the visitors' locker room.

Why eight penalties for 60 yards in the third week of regular-season play?

Why the numerous missed tackles from a veteran defense?

Why all the missed offensive assignments, such as the ones that led to an interception at the Vikings' 2, a blocked field goal and a fumble on the Vikings' 11?

What's everybody thinking?

''I don't know, but we're not thinking together," guard Guy McIntyre said, shaking his head and contemplating the awful unfamiliarity of a 1-2 record, something the 49ers haven't experienced since the strike-shortened 1982 season, when they finished 3-6.

Running back Spencer Tillman was more direct.

''When I first got here, after a loss, we had guys throwing up in the locker room," said Tillman, who joined the club in 1989.

''I'm not questioning the commitment of our players. I just think some of the guys who have been here, who expect to win, need to bring that out and give it to the younger guys, the guys who are asking, 'Where's that 49ers mystique we've heard about?' "

Ouch. But the fact is, the 49ers look wayward, and they know it.

''The fact that we threw an interception when we were in the red zone, or in the scoring territory, and the fact that we fumbled when we were in scoring territory, and the fact that we had a field goal blocked -- that was just too much for us to overcome," 49ers Coach George Seifert said.

Field day for Anthony Carter

That the 49ers' injury-ravaged defensive secondary was exploited by the Vikings (2-1) was no shocker, but Minnesota wide receiver Anthony Carter had a field day, catching three passes for 71 yards, including a 46-yard scoring reception from Wade Wilson, and rushing for 41 yards in two end-arounds. Running back Herschel Walker added 72 yards in 25 carries and caught three passes for 26 yards.

49ers quarterback Steve Young was spotted all over his side of the field, scrambling to escape a vicious Vikings pass rush. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns, both to Jerry Rice, but a second-quarter interception marred his performance.

Rice misses some passes Rice, whose four receptions accounted for 85 of the 49ers' 355 total yards, also wasn't without blame, dropping a number of throws. ''That one thing -- that's really an example of what happened today, so many things not going right," he said of the missed receptions.

Early on, though, things weren't going right for Minnesota, and 49ers cornerback Kevin Lewis appeared to be a hero.

On the first play of the Vikings' third offensive series, he intercepted a pass by Wilson that deflected off fullback Alfred Anderson's hands at the Vikings' 36.

Three plays later, Young threw a 15-yard scoring pass to Rice for a 7-0 lead with 2 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Minnesota answered with a quickie touchdown drive that had many checking the play twice.

On third-and-15 from the 49ers' 46, Wilson threw a quick out to Carter in the flat. He broke right, into what appeared a play-stopping tackle by 49ers safety Johnnie Jackson at the 30.

But in the takedown, Jackson pulled the Pro Bowl receiver down on top of him, and Carter's knees never touched turf. He bolted up, sprinted past Lewis -- who barely touched him, thinking the play was dead -- and scored. The extra point tied the score at 7-7 with 12:11 left in the second quarter.

The 49ers' ensuing drive carried them 69 yards to the Vikings' 15. There, however, Young's timing pass to Rice, who cut in for the reception when he spotted free safety Felix Wright leaving the middle open, was picked off by backup right cornerback Audray McMillian at the goal line and returned to the 2.

What followed -- a 13-play, 98-yard drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Walker with 2:25 remaining before halftime, cut right into the heart of the 49ers' defense. A 31-yard field goal by Fuad Reveiz increased the lead to 17-7 as the half ended.

''It was just guys missing opportunities -- we missed tackles," said linebacker Charles Haley, who had five tackles and an assist. "We've just got to stay up on guys and drive through them, instead of trying to dive over them." Another promising 49ers drive -- a 54-yarder in the third quarter -- was quashed when fullback Keith Henderson fumbled on an up-the-middle pile drive at the Vikings' 11. The next series was even more disheartening.

A 49-yard drive, highlighted by Young's 19-yard pass to Rice, his 18-yard completion to substitute tight end Wesley Walls and his 5-yard pass to fullback Harry Sydney -- went for naught.

Mike Cofer's 35-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by Vikings backup cornerback Todd Scott, who skirted around Jamie Williams' block to get to the kick.

''I went through the technique that I've been taught," Williams said. "I was doing everything I could to help us win.