Monday, November 30, 1992


Dallas Morning News

Jerry Rice hit the top Sunday, and his San Francisco 49ers remained there . . . barely.

Rice tied the National Football League record with his 100th career touchdown catch and propelled San Francisco to a 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, allowing the 49ers to clinch their ninth playoff spot in the last 10 years.

Rice's 22-yard grab of a first-quarter pass from Steve Young put the 49ers in front for good at 7-0. They built their lead to 20-7 in the opening stages of the fourth quarter. But the 49ers had to survive an offensive onslaught by the Eagles in the final minutes before improving to 10-2.

Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Keith Byars to cut the lead to 20-14 with 8 minutes 58 seconds remaining. Then the Eagles drove to the San Francisco 25 in the final minute.

Facing fourth and 15, the Eagles went for the first down rather than the touchdown. Cunningham hit Calvin Williams on a delayed crossing pattern but he collided with 49ers safety Merton Hanks as he caught the ball. He could not turn his body upfield and went to the ground near the 10.

Officials called a timeout for a measurement, stopping the clock with 17 seconds left, and found the Eagles inches short. That gave the 49ers the ball and allowed them to extend their winning streak to four games.

"That was about as exciting as you can get, having it come down to the final play like that," 49ers coach George Seifert said. "But you need (games) like these to be a championship team."

The Eagles were angered about the placement of the ball by the officials.

Several Eagles players threw their helmets in disgust.

"By the 49ers players reactions, they knew that it was a first down," Philadelphia running back Keith Byars said. "We had the first down, no doubt about it. We should have known that we were never going to get the call."

Referee Howard Roe said the ball was spotted by back judge Ken Baker. He acknowledged the spot was a "judgment call" but denied it was moved one way or the other. "I got down on my hands and knees and it was short of the line by an inch and a half so we turned the ball over to San Francisco," Roe said.

The Eagles fell to 7-5 with their third loss in the last five games, but they still hold down a wild-card playoff spot. Philadelphia has three of its four remaining games at home.

With the NFC's best record, the 49ers have that championship glow. They hold a tie-breaker edge over the Dallas Cowboys, who are also at 10-2, because of a better conference record. That means the 49ers would stay home for every round of the NFC playoffs.

Rice caught eight passes for 133 yards and had key grabs in all four San Francisco scoring drives.

His second catch of the day was his biggest. Rice found a crease in the middle of the Philadelphia zone on a deep crossing pattern, snared Young's pass between safeties Wes Hopkins and Rich Miano and turned untouched into the end zone for his record-tying touchdown. It took Steve Largent of the Seattle Seahawks 14 seasons to reach 100. Rice got there in eight.

"I started chasing this guy (Largent) a long, long time ago," Rice said. "I was fortunate to be in a position to (tie) his record. For me to get into the end zone . . . it felt really special."

Rice also caught three passes for 43 yards to help set up a 22-yard field goal by Mike Cofer in the second quarter and a 17-yard pass in the third quarter to help set up another Cofer field goal.

Rice finished with a 37-yard grab on the second play of the fourth quarter, moving the 49ers to the Philadelphia 47. That set up San Francisco's final touchdown on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Young to Dexter Carter.

After struggling in the first half, Cunningham was outstanding in the second. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 174 yards and the two touchdowns after the intermission - but he and the Eagles wound up inches short.