49ers show Panthers, Collins how real NFL dynasty operates

WEEK 12 IN REVIEW

November 18, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

It was bad enough when the Carolina Panthers unseated the San Francisco 49ers as NFC West champs a year ago. But it was stepping way over the line of good judgment for Carolina quarterback Kerry Collins to suggest, as he did at a pep rally last January, that it was the making of a dynasty.

The 49ers have the only dynasty in the West. This week, their West Coast empire struck back to claim its 13th division title in the past 17 years.

Then the 49ers lectured Carolina on NFL etiquette.

"We feel we took back what is rightfully ours," 49ers linebacker Gary Plummer said after Sunday's 27-19 win over the Panthers. "For them to come into our house and steal that from us last year was devastating. Seventeen years of dominating football, that's the true measure of a champion.

"For them to start talking about a dynasty after one year is pretty insulting to the 49ers."

The 49ers may be old and brittle in the offensive line, and they may miss Jerry Rice in the passing game, but they've still got enough weapons to whip-saw this cream puff division.

In a bizarre scheduling break, San Francisco (10-1) is the only team in the league to have played all of its division games in the first 12 weeks of the season. The 49ers went 8-0 in the limp West to post the fastest division clinching in 20 years.

They'll finish the season against four AFC West teams and the Minnesota Vikings. They already have a two-game lead in the NFC for home-field advantage, which could spare them a return trip to Green Bay.

Counting down fast

If the Dallas Cowboys had not pulled out a 17-14 win over the Washington Redskins in dramatic fashion Sunday, the NFC playoff race virtually would have been over with five weeks to play.

Had the Cowboys fallen to 5-6, it would have left the New York Giants and Redskins atop the East at 7-5, looking like locks. With the 49ers already in, the other three NFC spots likely will go to Green Bay, Minnesota and Tampa Bay in the Central division.

Philadelphia and Carolina, two playoff teams a year ago, both appear to be out of the running now.

Ensuring the win

Lindy Infante and Mike Ditka took unconventional paths to victory in Week 12. Both resorted to unusual game-ending strategy -- and knew what they were doing.

Infante's Indianapolis Colts had first down at the Green Bay 1 with 1: 22 left in a 38-38 game. Rather than risk a turnover on the goal line -- or a potential Packers comeback -- Infante had quarterback Paul Justin kneel three times. With three seconds left, the Colts called timeout and sent in Cary Blanchard for a 20-yard field goal.

In New Orleans, Ditka's Saints went to overtime tied 17-17 with the Seattle Seahawks. On the first play of overtime, Saints linebacker Winfred Tubbs intercepted Warren Moon and reached the Seattle 20.

Ditka didn't hesitate. He kept his offense on the sideline and sent in kicker Doug Brien for a game-winning 38-yard field goal. It was the right move for an offense that had five turnovers on the day and 38 for the season.

"Are you kidding me?" Ditka said. "There's a big mirror up there and I took a look at ours and all I saw was our offense and I said, 'Uh-oh, we'd better kick it.' "

Audibles

Kansas City, challenging Denver in the AFC West, has not allowed a touchdown in the second half for six consecutive games. Ricky Watters, in the final year of his contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, has had just 16 touches each of the past two weeks, and has carried more than 24 times only once this season. Carolina's Collins has thrown one touchdown pass and six interceptions in losses against Denver and San Francisco the past two weeks. The Packers are 0-3 on artificial turf this season. Quarterback Brett Favre has thrown four TDs and six picks in those games. Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer hasn't thrown an interception since Week 7. The Detroit Lions held Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson to 177 yards passing this week, ending a streak of 12 straight 200-yard games.

Best and worst

Best omen: Reacting to a comment by ESPN's Joe Theismann, Packers coach Mike Holmgren last week canceled quarterback Brett Favre's weekly news conferences. Theismann suggested Favre was not playing well enough to win a third straight MVP award. Maybe Holmgren should have worried a little more about the Colts and a little less about Theismann and the media.

Worst idea: When Drew Bledsoe, Scott Zolak and Max Lane of the Patriots attended an Everclear concert in Boston last Thursday, they were invited on stage. Then, witnesses say, they took turns diving off the stage into a crowd of young people in body-slam fashion. Somewhere in all that slamming, a woman was hurt and, not surprisingly , the Patriots say they had nothing to do with the injury. They were just getting ready for their game, it turned out.

Biggest mosh pit: Houlihan's Stadium in Tampa. That's where the Patriots' free fall continued unabated in a 27-7 loss to the Bucs. Bledsoe, having perfected his dive, led the way.

Best rookie tag team: Jaguars rookie defensive tackles Renaldo Wynn and Seth Payne, subbing for injured veterans Kelvin Pritchett and Don Davey, helped hold the Oilers to 136 rushing yards. The Oilers came in averaging 156, third-best in the NFL.

Worst special teams: The Seahawks. In a 20-17 overtime loss to the Saints, punter Kyle Richardson fumbled a snap and had a punt blocked, kicker Todd Peterson missed field goals of 33 and 45 yards, and the punt coverage team allowed a 29-yard return.

Best drive: The Cowboys. It looked like the old days when Troy Aikman took them 97 yards to a touchdown and tying two-point conversion against the Redskins in the final two minutes.

Most disappointed fans: The 20,000 Cheeseheads who trekked to the RCA Dome in Indianapolis to watch the winless Colts upset their Packers, 41-38.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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