SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Redskins were beaten in all football's departments yesterday, but their 26-13 trouncing could have been a lot worse. Ronnie Lott, elder statesman of the San Francisco 49ers' defense, says so.
"We are a long way from our standard," the veteran safety said while the Redskins were being sympathetic to each other. "I wouldn't be happy if the 49ers couldn't play better than we did today."
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who included "the coaching" in a post-game catalog of his team's inadequacies, said San Francisco is "playing at a level nobody else has been able to reach for a couple of years."
It did appear so, but the 49ers had help. On his films today Gibbs will see things like Kelvin Bryant cruising all alone on the 49ers' 15-yard line while Mark Rypien was throwing the ball over Gary Clark's head.
The touchdown would have trimmed the 49ers' lead to 10-7, halfway through the second quarter. The Skins settled for a field goal, kicked off and Joe Montana put on an 80-yard drive for a touchdown. It took five plays but the first two were incomplete passes.
tTC Montana, who pointed out the errors in his 29-for-45, 390-yard day's work, is never arrogant. But he displays his self-confidence by doing things like burning two timeouts in the first quarter.
Then, with 1:48 left in the half, Montana made do with his other timeout, hitting six straight passes to set up a field goal.
"He is worth every penny [of his multimillion-dollar contract]," said Redskins guard Mark Schlereth, whose parents came from Alaska to see him play. "He nickels and dimes you," said Schlereth, who had never been on a field with Montana before. "The ball just keeps moving downfield."
The Redskins moved downfield twice in the third quarter, but to little avail. "With the people I have to work with," Rypien said, "you should get more done." He had kept Washington in the game, 17-10, with a perfect 35-yard throw to Art Monk in the end zone, between Lott and cornerback Eric Davis, in the second quarter.
Linebacker Charles Haley thwarted one third-quarter drive personally, swatting Rypien's pass back at him, then crashing the middle to block a 33-yard field goal.
"I guess I was a little high," said snapper John Brandes, "but Mojo said it didn't mess up the timing." Holder Ralf Mojsiejenko was being kind. The snap was up in his face. "There must have been a [blocking] breakdown," Mojsiejenko insisted.
After Brian Davis nailed Mike Sherrard as the 49ers tried a four-wide receiver caper, Rypien threw to Jimmy Johnson for 22 yards and Clark for 40. The latter "should have" been a TD, Clark said, but 11-year veteran Dave Waymer knocked him over at the 1.
There the Redskins had the most irksome moments of their unpleasant afternoon. On "our bread-and-butter play," Gibbs said, Gerald Riggs hit right tackle for no gain. "Then we went up the middle but the linebacker got penetration."
"We had the right play called from the booth," said Matt Millen, the penetrator. No gain. Still third-and-goal at the 1.
The next play, Gibbs said, "was on me." Rypien faked a handoff to Riggs, then did a 180-degree turn and dived toward scrimmage. Millen penetrated again. Fourth-and-goal at the 3.
"We tried to sucker the corner," Gibbs said. "The quarterback was going to roll out right." The 49ers' man at the left corner in goal-line defense was Ronnie Lott, the safety whose "fire" at age 31, after 10 seasons, had been questioned by a San Francisco journalist.
"It was a naked rollout," Rypien said. "The tight end runs inside, so the corner will come inside to stop the run, while I roll. But Lott came upfield. He did a good job of stopping both."
"I was just taking care of my responsibility," Lott said, "to keep everything inside. We practice that play every day."
One reason may be the experience of the game against Green Bay last year. Packers quarterback Don Majkowski scooted for two touchdowns that November day, one of them on a rollout. The Packers won, 21-17. It was the second -- and last -- game the 49ers lost all season.
This time the Redskins had to settle for a field goal to cut the San Francisco lead to 20-13. That was as close as the game ever got.
Now, Gibbs said, the trick is to get to the "break" (the NFC East bye Oct. 7) with a 3-1 record.
That means beating Dallas at home this week and the Cardinals, again, at Phoenix on Sept. 30. If that trick is too difficult, it will indeed be a long season in Washington.