Montana Takes Lumps, Then Strikes : 49er Has Four Fourth-Quarter Touchdown Passes to Beat Eagles, 38-28

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

You can beat up on Joe Montana. But actually beating him is a little harder.

In fact, the Philadelphia Eagles weren’t in it at the end Sunday, losing to the San Francisco 49ers, 38-28, after sacking Montana eight times.

Knocked around for more than 45 minutes at Veterans Stadium, Montana, the National Football League’s quarterback of the 1980s, responded with four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.

Thus, Montana, 33, took the game away from Randall Cunningham, 26, who is sometimes called the quarterback of the 1990s. Cunningham had the Eagles ahead after two quarters, 12-10, after three, 18-10, and in the fourth, 21-10 and 28-17, before the deluge.

Montana completed 11 of 12 passes in the fourth quarter for 228 of his 428 total yards passing.


Montana’s new coach, George Seifert, who replaced Bill Walsh this season, said: “Montana’s coolness under pressure was the difference in a hell of a game between two fine football teams.”

The Eagles (2-1) were playing for field goals most of the afternoon, collecting four plus a safety and two touchdowns. The 49ers (3-0), their eyes on the end zone, got five touchdown passes from Montana.

The five matched his 49er high on a day when he needed some courage to keep standing in against one of the NFL’s rougher defensive lines.

“That’s part of the game,” Montana said after taking a long series of brutal hits from Reggie White, Jerome Brown and the others in Philadelphia’s quick, massive four-man line. “Everyone gets hit in this league.”

But not this often. And not this hard.

Still, this was not unexpected.

Philadelphia Coach Buddy Ryan, a defensive expert, aimed to win by attacking the 49ers up the middle, shutting down their running game and their short passing offense thereby forcing the defending Super Bowl champions to try to win with big plays--or not at all.

Ryan’s plan worked so well in the first three quarters that the 49ers gained only one yard running and but one touchdown passing. Montana had possession for only three minutes.

And even on Montana’s first-quarter touchdown, the Eagles had almost every 49er plugged or otherwise defensed except flanker Jerry Rice, who outplayed Eagle cornerback Izel Jenkins on his way into the open.

There, Montana, going down, hit him with a long pass on a 68-yard scoring play.

The 49ers otherwise weren’t a factor on series after series for three quarters. So, in the fourth quarter they threw out their game plan and went into a four-receiver offense, which most NFL teams are using this season.

The Eagles, like most NFL teams, was defenseless against this.

“We couldn’t tackle,” Ryan said. “We didn’t get a rush on the passer.”

Thus in the end, Montana won with four kinds of touchdown passes.

First, he threw into the flat to a single-covered split end, John Taylor, who, after Jenkins missed the tackle, sprinted untouched into the end zone for a 70-yard play.

Next, ending a 75-yard drive, Montana threw an eight-yard pass to a back, Tom Rathman, who was running free in the end zone.

Then, after taking his eighth sack, Montana threw to a tight end running a crossing pattern, Brent Jones, for 25 yards and six more points.

Finally, Rice got open again, and Montana passed to him on a 33-yard touchdown play.

By contrast, the Eagle offense played conservatively.

Cunningham didn’t throw a pass in his first three series. And, time and again, the Eagles ran on first and second downs, forcing Cunningham to face third-and-long situations.

Against the 49ers, Cunningham failed to consistently make first downs in such circumstances. Few quarterbacks can.

Moreover, Cunningham seldom ran. Although he led the Eagles in rushing, he gained only 52 yards on eight scrambles. This wasn’t enough on a day when Montana outpassed him, 428-192 yards. Montana completed 25 of 34 passes and had one interception; Cunningham was 19 of 38 and also had one interception.

Seifert, like Ryan, is a former defensive coordinator. It’s difficult to tell what Seifert’s defense would have done had Cunningham attacked with rollout plays. But the 49ers didn’t have much trouble with Cunningham in the pocket.

Philadelphia’s most artistic scoring series came in the fourth quarter, in the midst of Montana’s touchdown burst, when Cunningham passed twice on first down and twice on second, once reaching former Raider tight end Jimmie Giles with a well thrown 31-yard pass down the middle--difficult to deliver accurately.

He also passed three yards to Giles for the touchdown, despite having to wait until third down to throw.

The Eagles looked better in the preseason when Cunningham was calling the plays himself.

And when Montana wasn’t on the other side of the ball. The 49ers have lost last year’s coach, but not last year’s quarterback.