Kirby quiets critics, then hands off credit Hearst's fill-in gains 120, praises 49ers' offensive line

NFC notebook

January 04, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO -- Terry Kirby spent the week hearing about how much the San Francisco 49ers were going to miss the running of ailing Garrison Hearst in the playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings yesterday.

"The last couple of weeks, everybody has been saying the running game has been missing this and that," Kirby said. "I took it kind of personal.

"Everybody says I'm a passing back and this and that and I don't hit the holes quick enough. [They say] I'm better at catching the ball out of the backfield. As long as you get the job done, it doesn't matter what you do," he said.

Kirby got the job done in the 49ers' 38-22 NFL divisional playoff victory over the Vikings.

He ran 25 times for 120 yards, including a 22-yarder and two 1-yard touchdown runs to spark the 49ers.

But Kirby didn't gloat or even take any credit. He gave the credit to the offensive linemen.

"It's a lot easier to run when you have holes. People think it's easy being a running back, but a running back is only as good as his line. Today the offensive line was great and made me that much better," he said.

Hearst ran for 1,019 yards before he broke his clavicle on Nov. 30 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Kirby had run just 125 times for 418 yards during the regular season. He also caught 23 passes for 279 yards. He averaged 3.3 yards a carry, Hearst 4.4 yards a carry.

Kirby had run for 39 yards on 17 carries in a 28-17 victory against Minnesota on Dec. 7, and the 49ers had talked about giving Chuck Levy a look in this game. But Levy, who gained 5 yards, was limited to nine carries once Kirby got off to a good start.

Of all the criticism, Kirby said: "It's one of those things I can't worry about it. It's out of my hands."

But quarterback Steve Young said he felt Kirby could handle the criticism.

"Terry's a veteran," Young said. "When you're a veteran in the league, you tend to be able to have some of that stuff run off your back. You have to or you wouldn't be playing. You know he's going to handle it."

Coach Steve Mariucci said the 49ers hope to get Hearst back for the NFC title game next Sunday.

He said the doctors told him that there was a 50-50 chance Hearst would get hurt again if he played yesterday. With eight more days to rest, the doctors say he has a better chance of staying healthy.

Young learns some steps

Young, who tends to be the analytical type, did a dance in the end zone after his touchdown pass to Terrell Owens put the 49ers up 31-13.

He said Owens had been tutoring him on end-zone dances.

"When we got up 31-14, I got excited," he said. "I don't know got into me. I figured I better do it before it's too late."

When he left the locker room, he got a big hug from Mariucci's wife.

Green mum after loss

Vikings coach Dennis Green, whose playoff record dropped to 1-5, refused to answer questions about his future after the game.

"I haven't thought about that," he said.

He also said, "I'm not giving consideration to anything except my football team right now."

Green wrote a book last year in which he outlined a plan to take over the team in a legal fight. He said last week that he has proof that a team official met with three columnists to outline a plan to get him fired.

There's been speculation that Green, who has one year left on his contract, will be fired and that he could wind up as coach of the Oakland Raiders.

Cunningham hot, cold

Cunningham, playing in place of injured Brad Johnson, threw three touchdown passes, but was guilty of one costly interception that was run back for a touchdown by Ken Norton.

"It just wasn't our day," Cunningham said. "I hit on a few big plays, but we had trouble sustaining any drives. I see this team getting better. I pray he [Green] is back with the team next year, and I'd like to be back if he is."

Cunningham's best play was a 66-yard touchdown pass to Cris Carter when safety Merton Hanks bit on what looked like a screen.

"They were playing zone coverage, and we baited them a little bit," Cunningham said. "It was the same way we scored on our last game here."


Former Ravens running back Leroy Hoard, who got only 11 yards in five carries, said, "We never had any real sustained drives, just a few big plays." The victory was the 49ers' 11th straight at home, a team record The 49ers are 6-1 in postseason games when they score a defensive touchdown. The only serious injury the 49ers suffered was a left calf strain by cornerback Rod Woodson. He's questionable for next week.

Pub Date: 1/04/98

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