November 29, 1994


Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- The San Francisco 49ers put a punctuation point on the obvious Monday night - nobody in the NFL but Dallas is close to them.

The Niners became the first team to clinch a playoff spot by overcoming a couple of mistakes that would kill mere mortals to beat New Orleans, 35-14, as Steve Young threw for 281 yards and four touchdowns.

It gave them:

* Their 11th NFC West title in 14 years;

* Their 12th straight season of 10 wins or more;

* Their 11th playoff berth in 12 years.

"We couldn't get them stopped," Saints coach Jim Mora said of a team that converted 11 of its 15 third-down opportunities.

"They're the best offensive team in football, the best offense I've ever seen."

The win kept the Niners (10-2) on top of Dallas (10-2) for the home-field advantage in their drive for a third straight NFC title game. San Francisco, which won for the seventh straight time, would get the home field if the teams are tied because it beat the Cowboys two weeks ago.

Young, who had completed 68.2 percent of his passes entering the game, was 24 of 30 as he hit four TD passes in a game for the fourth time this season. The Niners, despite their mistakes, dominated. They outgained the Saints, 461-222, and kept the ball for more than 38 minutes.

Young threw first-half touchdowns of 4 yards each to Brent Jones and John Taylor, found Jones again from 6 yards out on a drive that consumed 9:02 at the start of the second half and capped the scoring with a 43-yarder on a slant to backup Nate Singleton.

That was enough to negate Tyrone Hughes' 86-yard return of a fumble by Ricky Watters for the Saints (4-8) and a second-quarter fumble by Young at the Saints' 12 that held the Niners to a 20-14 lead at halftime.

San Francisco now has won 10 or more games for 12 straight seasons and qualified for the playoffs in 11 of them, missing only in 1991 despite a 10-6 record.

This year's team, however, is one rebuilt by the signing of a half-dozen veterans to bolster a defense that can stop Dallas.

The latest newcomer, Tim Harris, got a sack Monday night in his first game under a contract that pays him $5,000 each time he dumps the quarterback.

The Niners led 20-14 at the half, but it might have been more if not for those two San Francisco fumbles.

But the Saints' Hughes also contributed to San Francisco's scoring, fumbling a punt on his own 7 late in the first quarter, a play that led to the Niners' first TD.