49ers get strength test after weak-to-weak ride

Week 10 Preview

October 31, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

There were a lot of cynics snickering when the San Francisco 49ers pushed George Seifert out the door last year and replaced him with untested Steve Mariucci.

After all, Seifert had two Super Bowl rings and the best career winning percentage of all time (.755), and Mariucci went 6-5 in one year at the University of California and lost a bowl game to Navy.

As it turned out, the NFL couldn't give him another shot at Navy, but it did the next best thing.

It gave him two games each against the 1-7 Atlanta Falcons, the 2-7 New Orleans Saints and the 2-6 St. Louis Cardinals in the first half of the season.

The result is the 49ers are tied with the Denver Broncos for the best record in the NFL at 7-1, but nobody has any idea how good they are.

They start finding out Sunday when they play host to the Dallas Cowboys in a renewal of one of the NFL's best rivalries.

These two teams have combined to win six of the past nine Super Bowls and have been virtually obsessed with each other. After San Francisco signed Deion Sanders in 1994 and won the Super Bowl, the Cowboys lured him to Dallas the next year and won the Super Bowl.

This game is too big for Monday night. Since Fox paid $1.58 billion to get the NFC television package in 1994, the network has gotten gotten this game every year during November's sweeps week.

The game isn't what it once was because the Cowboys are struggling at 4-4, but it should show whether the 49ers are as good as their record.

Mariucci survived his only crisis when the 49ers won their second game in St. Louis without Steve Young and Jerry Rice. Young returned the next week and they've cruising every since.

"He stood tall through that little session," Young said. "And that's where a lot of guys said, 'Wow, we'll follow this guy.' Up to that point, it was like: 'Well, we don't know.' "

The 49ers do know that their top-ranked defense has yet to face an offense ranked above No. 23. The Cowboys are ranked 19th, and quarterback Troy Aikman is coming back from a concussion.

"You look at their personnel, you look at what they bring to the table, you just automatically assume they should be doing better," 49ers safety Merton Hanks said of the Cowboys.

With a three-game lead in their division, the 49ers have virtually wrapped up a playoff spot. They're playing this one for their reputation.

Best of the rest

Patriots at Vikings: This is a fascinating matchup pitting a pair of beleaguered coaches. In New England, Pete Carroll has the same 5-3 record the team had last year under Bill Parcells, but he has been charged and convicted of not being the Tuna by the restless Patriots fans. That means all those New England players who spent the off-season talking about how much they'd like to play for Carroll have to produce.

For Minnesota, coach Dennis Green is doing just fine on the field with a 6-2 mark. His problem is a book he wrote in which he laid out a plan for a hostile takeover of the club. He now says he was just "thinking out loud." Whatever, Vikings fans may not give him a warm reception in the first home game since the book was

released.

Steelers at Chiefs: The Monday night game features another intriguing coaching matchup: Marty Schottenheimer against his former assistant, Bill Cowher. So far, Cowher's career is following along the lines of Schottenheimer's. Both have sterling regular-season records but losing playoff marks, although Cowher has made one Super Bowl, which Schottenheimer has yet to do. The Steelers won in Kansas City, 17-7, last year with Mike Tomczak at quarterback and now will try to do it with Kordell Stewart.

Seahawks at Broncos: This will be a shootout between a pair of aging quarterbacks, 40-year-old Warren Moon of Seattle and 37-year-old John Elway of Denver. Elway's passing game is ranked only 14th this year because Terrell Davis heads the league's best rushing offense. Moon, by contrast, has the second-best passing offense (behind the Ravens) after passing for 409 yards against the Raiders last week. The Broncos shredded the Seahawks, 35-14, in Week 2, but the Seahawks have won five of six and are a much different team.

Worth a look

Lions at Packers: Did you forget that the Lions upset the Pack- ers, 26-15, in Week 5, when Barry Sanders rushed for 139 yards and the Lions intercepted three passes. The Packers got their game together last Monday night in New England, so it doesn't figure to happen again, but erratic Detroit has been on a win-one, lose-one pace all year. After a loss to the Giants and a bye, this is their win-one week. If Green Bay is to get on a roll, it can't afford to stumble after the New England victory.

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