Eagles fall short to 49ers, 20-14, on Rice's record day

November 30, 1992|By Jack McCaffery | Jack McCaffery,Contributing Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- On a day Jerry Rice made history, th Philadelphia Eagles made rationalizations.

On a day the San Francisco 49ers handed them a 20-14 defeat, the Eagles believed they left Candlestick Park with something of much greater value.

On a day the Eagles fell behind the Washington Redskins in the NFC East and in the wild-card scramble, they believed they were inches away from success.

On a day they lost, the Eagles almost pretended they won.

"We fell short," coach Rich Kotite said, raising his voice to stress his point. "But we are back. We are back hitting on all cylinders. That was a very good football team, a pressurized game. But all three segments of our football team played tremendously well.

"We have to make corrections. But we believe we are in sync and we are ready to go."

The 49ers, at 10-2 tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the best record in the NFL, became the first team to clinch a playoff berth, but not before the Eagles fell 1 1/2 inches short of keeping alive a potentially game-tilting drive.

The Eagles, inconsistent since their 4-0 start, dipped to 7-5 and three games out of the NFC East lead with four to play.

Rice used 22 of Steve Young's 342 passing yards for a first-quarter touchdown reception, the 100th of his career, tying him with Steve Largent for the all-time NFL lead.

But Philadelphia's Calvin Williams (Dunbar) made just about as much noise with his 14-yard reception of a Randall Cunningham pass over the middle with 53 seconds left. The Eagles, facing fourth-and-15 at the San Francisco 25, seemed to gain life when Williams avoided traffic and caught Cunningham's pass near the 10. The chains, though, said Williams was 1 1/2 inches short, and the 49ers had the kneel-down option to preserve their victory.

"I thought I had the first down," Williams said. "But the point is moot now. We didn't get it. I thought we got a bad spot, and that's the game."

The Eagles believed they would have won because for the first time in roughly a month Cunningham appeared to be his team-rallying self.

With Philadelphia down by 20-7 early in the fourth quarter, Cunningham orchestrated one quick touchdown drive, then was operating efficiently at the end. The Eagles took their final possession at their 47 with 4:13 to play and advanced to the San Francisco 17, where Cunningham was sacked.

On the fourth-down play, he found Williams, but the Eagles found nothing but frustration.

"I got down on my hands and knees, and it was short of the line by an inch and a half," referee Howard Roe said. "So we turned the ball over to San Francisco."

The 49ers got their history-making done early on Rice's touchdown reception with 8:33 left in the first quarter. Rice slashed over the middle from left to right, left Wes Hopkins behind, juked Rich Miano and caught the ball and Largent.

"The touchdown meant a lot," Rice said. "I wanted to surpass Steve Largent, but I believe everything happens for a reason. And there's always next week.

"I have a lot of respect for Steve Largent. And the things I really liked about him was that he ran precise routes, played hard and had a big heart."

San Francisco made it 10-0 when Mike Cofer kicked a 22-yard field goal at the end of a 76-yard, 11-play drive in the second quarter.

The 49ers wasted all but eight seconds of the last 4:06 of the first half, going from their 6 to the Philadelphia 11 but failed to pad their lead when Cofer sent a 28-yard field-goal attempt wide to the right. Thus, despite playing poorly with 0-for-5 third-down efficiency and 11 total rushing yards, the Eagles stayed within 10-0 at halftime.

The Eagles scored 1:58 into the second half when Cunningham laid a perfectly timed 23-yard pass into the arms of Fred Barnett in the deep left corner of the end zone.

Cofer made it 13-7 with a 28-yard, third-quarter field goal after San Francisco had been first-and-goal at the 9.

On its next possession, San Francisco took a 20-7 lead on Young's 43-yard touchdown pass to Dexter Carter with 13:04 to play.

Cunningham's 11-yard scoring pass to Byars 4:06 later was the tight end's fourth reception on the 62-yard, eight-play drive. Roger Ruzek's point after nudged Philadelphia within 20-14.

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