SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco 49ers are not the NFL's only undefeated team, but as of this morning, they're also almost assuredly the unhappiest.
Their 20-17 win over the Cleveland Browns yesterday at Candlestick Park pushed their unbeaten streak to 15 games, seven this season, and kept them even with the New York Giants, who remained the league's other undefeated team by beating the Washington Redskins 21-10.
In certain respects, however, the Niners may be worse off than before. They lost wide receiver Mike Sherrard for six to eight weeks to a broken right ankle on the game-turning play. And, as safety Ronnie Lott sees it, their overall performance against the Browns reflected a step backward.
It has been 343 days since the two-time defending Super Bowl champions last tasted defeat, and Lott believes it's beginning to show.
"I'll tell you this right now, we're not a good football team," he said. "All this stuff about going undefeated is bull. All this stuff about being in a race with the Giants is bull. If you can't put teams away, you're not that great."
The 49ers couldn't put away the Browns, a 2-6 team. They had a comfortable 14-0 lead at halftime and led 17-3 after three quarters.
Mike Cofer punched his second field goal through a swirling wind from 45 yards for the winning margin with five seconds left.
"I felt like we handled the end of the game well," Niners coach George Seifert said. "We took some risks, but the players came through and executed when they had to and made the plays."
For their part, the Browns may have saved embattled coach Bud Carson's job with their second-half surge. Their comeback was built on a number of big plays, perhaps the biggest being Carson's decision to replace starting quarterback Bernie Kosar with Mike Pagel.
"We made our mind up before the game that if we got bogged down, we would do it," Carson said.
Pagel, who is far more mobile than Kosar, completed 13 of 21 pass attempts for 156 yards and two touchdowns, the first an 11-yard scoring pass to Webster Slaughter.
An interception by Felix Wright three plays earlier had given the Browns the ball at the Niners' 27.
Tight end Ozzie Newsome snared Pagel's other end-zone toss with a diving catch for a 4-yard touchdown that made it 17-17 with 70 seconds left.
All big plays, at a time when the Niners should have been closing the door.