HERNDON,VA. — HERNDON, Va. -- Jerry Rice vs. Darrell Green.
That's the glamour matchup in Saturday's divisional playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins at Candlestick Park.
It will pit the man many consider the game's best receiver (Rice of the 49ers) against many observers' best one-on-one cover man (Green of the Redskins) in a duel that will get most of the pre-game attention.
9- But the one that may be more important in
deciding the game will be what could be called the "Silent Matchup" -- John Taylor vs. Martin Mayhew.
Green draws the assignment every week of covering an opponent's best receiver all over the field, and even Rice doesn't figure to have a big day against him. Green held Rice to 74 yards on six catches when the 49ers beat the Redskins, 26-13, in the second game of the season.
But Mayhew, in his second season with the Redskins, has yet to prove he can handle Taylor, who made eight catches for 160 yards, including receptions of 49, 30, 26 and 35 yards in the first meeting.
This is the "Silent Matchup" because neither participant is likely to do any talking about their upcoming duel. Taylor doesn't give interviews and Mayhew talks only after games.
Their ears may be ringing this week, though, because their meeting has been the subject of much discussion.
The Redskins would seem to have little chance of pulling an upset if Mayhew, acquired as a Plan B free agent from the Buffalo Bills a year ago, gets burned again.
The Redskins, though, say Mayhew is a different player now.
8, Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who
runs the defense, said: "He's got a corner's mentality. Nothing fazes him. We like him a lot."
Petitbon said it's important for a cornerback to be able to cope with the pressure of the position.
"When you get beat, you can't worry about it," he said. "When you play out there, you have to expect to be beat and you have to be able to put it out of your mind. People who can't do that don't last very long on the corner."
Mayhew, thrust into the starting position when A.J. Johnson suffered a knee injury during minicamp and Brian Davis came up lame in training camp and eventually was waived, struggled at the start of the season.
"He didn't have the greatest game in the world," Petitbon said of his performance in the first game against the 49ers. But he rallied from that long day to lead the team in interceptions with seven.
"I think he's had a great year," Petitbon said. "I really think he's done absolutely a lot more than we thought or expected of him. He's improving every week. He's become a very good corner. I think he's an NFL corner and is a much better football player [than in the second week of the season]."
Mayhew also caught Green's eye with his play this season.
"I remember one game where he was having a hard time and I was talking to him and he said, 'Hey, I'm all right,' " Green said. "I said, 'Whoa, I'm going to stand back and let this guy alone.' From that day on, I don't think I've said anything in that respect to him."
Green said he always dislikes it when a coach yells at him on the sidelines after he gets beat.
"They're only telling you what you already know," Green said. " 'I made a mistake, I didn't do this. I didn't do that.' I didn't want to be that way with Martin. If they do something to him, he knows it first. I'm probably his biggest fan because I see he has the attributes it takes to be a great corner."
The Redskins also figure to give Mayhew some help because teams have been ignoring the 49ers' running game in recent weeks, playing a nickel defense against them.
Green said he doesn't expect to blank Rice, but hopes to have a good game against him.
"I think the most impossible thing you can do is shut Jerry Rice down to where he catches no balls," Green said. "That probably won't happen, but it would be great if it did because it certainly would give us a leg up."
Rice has similar respect for Green. "He can be an intimidator if you let him," Rice said. "If it's just him and me, it's almost like going out to the back alley and seeing who's the best guy."
Rice still hopes to break one on Green. "If he slips down or something like that I can go the distance," Rice said. "One mistake and it can result in a big play."
Green is unlikely to make such a mistake against Rice.
The real question is whether Mayhew will make a mistake against Taylor.
The Redskins' chances of pulling an upset may hinge on whether he can avoid one.
NOTES: WR Gary Clark (ankle, knee) was the only player who didn't practice yesterday, but he's likely to play Saturday. . . . QB Stan Humphries may be activated for the game, although he didn'tpractice yesterday.