Two questions rose into the chilly Monday night air of Candlestick Park.
What is the state of Montana?
What in the world happened to the Chicago Bears?
“There is nothing we can say that is either pertinent or relevant,” said Steve McMichael, Bear defensive tackle.
Joe Montana, 49er quarterback, was forced out in the first quarter with a pulled left hamstring and twisted knee, but he couldn’t have felt much worse than the Bears, who were absolutely flattened by San Francisco, 41-0.
“We’re not America’s team, the Monsters of the Midway or the darlings of the networks and the nation, but we are a good, solid team and we’ll make a run at it this year,” 49er Coach Bill Walsh said.
The verdict was stunning, not necessarily because of the 49ers’ victory, but because of the margin. For the Bears (10-3), it was their worst defeat in a decade, since the Houston Oilers beat them, 47-0, in 1977.
Bear defender Richard Dent promised a reprisal in a rematch. “Till next time,” he said.
And from another Bear defender, Al Harris: “It may be dangerous they beat us this bad. We’ll come back next time, Jim (McMahon) will be back, and it’ll all be different.”
This time, though, Young replaced Montana and merely shredded the Bears’ defense with four touchdown passes, three of them to Jerry Rice, who finished with 8 catches for 75 yards.
The three touchdowns gave Rice 18 for the season, tying the National Football League record set by Mark Clayton of the Dolphins in 15 games in 1984.
It was also the 11th consecutive regular-season game in which Rice caught a touchdown pass, tying him for the league record with former star wide receivers Elroy Hirsch of the Rams and Buddy Dial of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hirsch’s streak was in 1950-51, Dial’s in 1959-60.
Young was 9 for 19 for 100 yards, and although his statistics weren’t overpowering, the results were.
Less than a minute into the fourth quarter, by the time Rice caught his third touchdown pass of the game, a two-yard loft from Young, the 49ers (11-2) had completed a resounding victory over their NFC rivals.
Soon, there was a resounding chant from the stands: “Ditka, Ditka.” As if he could do something about the game. All Bear Coach Mike Ditka could do was stomp and glare and watch his team get systematically dismantled.
“You always wonder what it feels like to be on the other end of 41-0,” Ditka said. “It doesn’t feel very good.”
Because both the 49ers and Bears had already clinched playoff spots, they were basically playing this game for a home-field advantage when the playoffs begin.
Montana is listed as doubtful for next week’s game against the Atlanta Falcons but not as seriously hurt as it appeared when he went down in the first quarter.
Retreating to pass under a rush from the Bears, Montana tripped over the foot of running back Roger Craig.
It was a bad trip. Montana grabbed his knee almost as soon as he hit the ground. No one knew how badly Montana was hurt, or more precisely, if he would return to the game.
Then after Montana was helped to the sidelines and examined on the 49ers’ bench, he was handed a crutch, which couldn’t be considered a good sign.
Montana was done for the night. He hobbled over to a motorized cart and was driven off to the locker room, scattering photographers who stood in his path.
Montana’s injury should have evened things up, since McMahon wasn’t playing either.
McMahon was placed on the inactive list Monday, still bothered a hamstring muscle he pulled last Sunday night in a game against the Minnesota Vikings.
So the game was left up to the backups, Young for the 49ers and Mike Tomczak and rookie Jim Harbaugh for the Bears. By halftime, Young had thrown two touchdown passes, one of them to Rice and the other to Dwight Clark, which put the 49ers ahead, 20-0.
When Dana McLemore popped up the middle and ran a Bear punt back 83 yards for a touchdown, the 49ers had caught the Bears in a numbers game, 27-0.
This may have represented a low point for the Bears, who had not given up a punt return for a touchdown since LeRoy Irvin of the Rams did it to them in 1981.
Ditka wasn’t liking this much. After Harbaugh threw a poor pass that was nearly intercepted, Ditka berated him angrily on the sidelines.
But Ditka couldn’t have liked what happened next either. Young threw his third touchdown pass of the night, a 16-yarder to Rice, and the 49ers were out of sight, 34-0.
Between those two touchdowns, Montana returned to the field leaning on crutches. The crowd of 63,509, the 49ers’ biggest crowed ever at Candlestick, cheered loudly.
What about the other injured quarterback? As McMahon stood peering out from behind a pair of shades on the chilly sidelines, he watched Tomczak get colder.
Tomczak has a strong arm, but, in this game, not a very accurate one. He threw four interceptions in the first half, and if that wasn’t bad enough, which it should have been, after one of them he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for blocking below the knees.
The Bears had a total of six turnovers in the first half. Here is how their possessions went: punt, interception, fumble, interception, missed field goal, interception, fumble, interception.
Notice a trend here?
In the meantime, the 49ers seemed to be sprinting out of sight. The first play after Montana went out, Young scrambled for 18 yards. Two plays later, he lofted a one-yard pass to Rice.
After Walter Payton fumbled on a first-down play at the Bear 30-yard line, Young drove the 49ers eight whole yards, but that was far enough for Ray Wersching, who kicked a 20-yard field goal.
So after one quarter, not only did the 49ers lead, 10-0, they also had 116 yards rushing against the NFL’s top-rated rushing defense.
“When is the last time you saw a Bear defender knocked backward?” 49er receiver Dwight Clark asked. “I don’t remember seeing it in two years, and I saw it twice tonight.”
Seeing was believing for the 49ers, on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The 49ers didn’t have to go very far to increase their lead to 13-0 on their first possession of the second quarter. Todd Shell stole Tomczak’s pass intended for Cap Boso at the Chicago 45, and after the 49er drive stalled at the Bear 27, Wersching kicked a 45-yard field goal.
The Bears’ best drive of the half, kept alive by Tomczak’s passes to Payton and Willie Gault, stopped abruptly at the 49er 23. From there, Kevin Butler missed a 40-yard field goal.
That miss broke a streak of 14 consecutive field goals by Butler. However, Tomczak kept his streak going. The next time he touched the ball, he threw another pass that was intercepted.
Linebacker Michael Walter got this one, again intended for Boso, and returned it 16 yards. Then the 49ers got 15 more yards because Tomczak threw an illegal block.
On third and 3 from the 13, Young saw Clark in the right corner of the end zone and got him the ball for a touchdown.
Tomczak was intercepted once more just before the half, and Ditka had obviously seen enough, so he began the third quarter with Harbaugh at quarterback.
Harbaugh didn’t get the Bears any points either, but Ditka said there will be another day.
“Right now, we’re not a good team,” he said. “We didn’t beat a good team tonight. We’ll be back. No question.”