Sunday, Dec. 18, 1994

49ers clinch home field, sink Broncos

By Tom Friend
N.Y. Times News Service

SAN FRANCISCO -- The road to the Super Bowl now officially goes through San Francisco, though the Denver Broncos offer the following advice: Yield before entering.

The 49ers played yesterday as if they were late for an appointment, fitting an entire game into a first half and clarifying Dallas' itinerary. If the Cowboys are to win an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl, they first must win at Candlestick Park -- if the 49ers, as expected, win their first playoff game.

San Francisco's 42-19 victory dropped Denver to 7-8, eliminating the Broncos from the playoffs. It also not only guaranteed San Francisco's home-field advantage for the playoffs, but legitimized quarterback Steve Young -- on paper. Young tossed his 32nd, 33rd and 34th touchdown passes of the season, surpassed Joe Montana's franchise record of 31 in 1987 and now has evidence to get the thousands of Montana admirers here off his back.

"The hottest man in the place right now is Steve Young," running back Ricky Watters said. "I touched him and, ouch, I was burnt."

Young (20-of-29 for 350 yards) is just not one to get the football dirty. Incompletions come at a minimum, completions to Jerry Rice at a maximum. Rice planted his flag in the end zone for the 138th time of his career yesterday, Watters caught as many touchdowns one-handed as two-handed, and the only thing more impressive than the 49ers (now 13-2) was the national anthem: It was sung by the Temptations.

The anthem certainly was music to the 49ers' ears, because 10 players charged on to the field to congratulate the singing group. Then, the Niners went out, stayed on a high pitch, and recorded their 10th-consecutive victory.

"We just keep humming lightly to ourselves, a Zen-like thing where we get to chant," Young said. "No, I'd like to think this isn't a zone. This is
what we do."

The 49ers almost reached their scoring average of 32.7 points a game by halftime. Their first two touchdowns came 22 seconds apart, the score was 28-6 by intermission, defensive tackle Rhett Hall personally body-slammed John Elway from the game in the third quarter, and the 49ers kept mutilating franchise records:

* Their 491 points for the season breaks the club's record of 475 from
1984.

* Their 64 touchdowns for the season breaks the club's record of 61 from
1993.

* Their seven sacks yesterday were a season high.

One other startling statistic: Young threw an interception, forcing a third-quarter pass to tight end Brent Jones that was caught by Denver linebacker Elijah Alexander.

In the previous nine games, Young had thrown 20 touchdowns and had only two balls picked off.

The 49ers' touchdowns yesterday were both routine and epic. On their initial possession, Young swung a pass out to Watters, who cupped it with only his right hand and ran 12 yards for a touchdown. Linebacker Lee Woodall, on the next play from scrimmage, sacked Elway, forcing a fumble. Hall, subbing for 49ers defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, recovered.

Next play: a 23-yard touchdown pass to Rice that he caught with the fingertips.

"I'm not fading; I'm still strong," Rice said. "It'll be a scary sight because I think I can play another five to seven years."

Two scoring runs from fullback William Floyd, of 11 yards and 1 yard, made it four touchdowns for the half, and all that was left was a mad rush to Elway.

Hall sacked him three times himself, and the third one prompted Elway to take himself out of the game. Backup Hugh Millen actually lit a match under the Broncos, choreographing two TD drives.