49ers show Saints they're No. 1 again

November 16, 1992|By Bob Oates | Bob Oates,Los Angeles Times

SAN FRANCISCO -- The world got a new boxing champion over the weekend, Riddick Bowe. But in pro football, there is no changing of the guard in the NFC's Western Division.

This division belongs to the San Francisco 49ers. They have won five of the last six NFC West titles -- all but last year's -- and they took a big step closer to another one yesterday when they came from behind to beat the New Orleans Saints, 21-20, in the last 46 seconds.

The Saints conservative coaches couldn't bring themselves to throw the ball as often as they should have against one of the NFL's worst pass defenses, and so their lead was only 20-7 in the fourth quarter when San Francisco quarterback Steve Young took charge.

Driving the 49ers 65 and 74 yards to the two winning touchdowns in the last 10 minutes, Young threw the two short scoring passes down the middle to tight end Brent Jones -- on identical plays -- when the Saints elected to double-cover San Francisco wide receivers Jerry Rice, Mike Sherrard and Odessa Turner.

"The 49ers offense is hard to contain for 60 minutes," said New Orleans coach Jim Mora.

Said San Francisco coach George Seifert: "That had to be one of the more exciting fourth quarters I've ever seen."

And so the 49ers (8-2), making their second winning effort of the season against the Saints (7-3), demonstrated again that when the division title went to New Orleans last year, it was no more than an aberration.

This time the Saints moved ahead in the first quarter, 3-0, and held the lead all the way into the final minute. But their pass offense isn't sophisticated enough to run up the points that have to be scored in a game like this to beat a quarterback who does all the things that Young can do.

He is the most unusual quarterback in the league, a not-bad passer who carries the ball with the impact of a good NFL running back.

And in Candlestick Park, two New Orleans touchdowns and two field goals never figured to be sufficient.

Young and 49ers halfback Ricky Watters were the two most stylish ballcarriers on the Candlestick field, Watters gaining 115 yards, a 5.5 average, and Young adding 58, a 7.3 average.

"Most of [Watters'] yards came against our nickel [five defensive-back] defense," Mora said. Five of Young's eight carries were planned running plays, mostly rollouts.

One of his scrambles became a 10-yard touchdown on third-and-goal, an unpromising time for any quarterback to scramble that far. But Young isn't any quarterback.

No Saint netted more than 34 yards on a day when New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert threw two touchdown passes, reaching rookie wide receiver Torrance Small from 22 yards for a 10-0 lead in the second quarter and running back Dalton Hilliard from 11 yards for a 20-7 lead in the third quarter.

Although Hebert completed 22 of 35 passes for 301 yards, he was throwing too often on second-and-long or third-and-long, particularly in the first half, which went to the Saints by a 10-7 score.

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