Joe Montana, by any standard, was clearly the quarterback of the 1980s. And, in Sunday’s NFC championship game at Candlestick Park, he started staking claim on another decade.
Montana was simply marvelous. He effortlessly sliced apart the Rams’ zone defense with such poise and deftness that the Rams hardly realized they were bleeding. Five yards here, seven yards there, an occasional 20-yarder mixed in. He led the 49ers on four scoring drives that contained 12 or more plays.
Montana completed 10 of his first 11 passes and the 49ers’ Super Bowl Express was up to speed and careening down the tracks toward New Orleans and a meeting with AFC champion Denver before halftime.
When the final gun sounded, the scoreboard read: Forty-Niners 30, Rams 3. But it was all but over long before that.
The Rams’ unofficial act of surrender came with 3:32 left in the third quarter. Quarterback Jim Everett retreated to pass, couldn’t find a receiver, and dropped to the turf before any 49er pass rusher could even get a hand on him.
If he had a white flag, he would have waved it.
“Obviously, we were overwhelmed today,” Ram Coach John Robinson said. “The 49ers were clearly dominant. They played ball-possession type football and they were able to make first downs and run time off the clock.”
Everett had one of his worst outings of the season, completing only 16 of 36 passes and throwing three interceptions.
But Everett could have had the best day of his career and it might not have made any difference. Montana worked over the Ram secondary to the tune of 262 yards and two touchdowns, completing 26 of 30 passes. As a result, he now owns another spot in the NFL record book: Most Touchdown Passes in the Postseason--31.
The Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw had 30.
The 49ers had obviously taken note of the New York Giants’ success running the ball against the Rams last Sunday. Running back Roger Craig had 23 carries for 93 yards and fullback Tom Rathman had 63 yards in 10 carries--but with Montana having a great (even by his standards) game, who needs a running attack?
And it could have been even more embarrassing. The 49ers let the Rams off by settling for three Mike Cofer field goals in the second half.
“The poise Joe Montana shows is amazing, it was just vintage Joe,” Forty-Niner Coach George Seifert said. “He just keeps getting better and better.”
Montana spent the first half proving once again that when it comes to big games, nobody does it better.
“When I missed my first or second pass of the game, that little pass to Roger (Craig), I said, ‘Oh God, no! Is it going to be this way?’ ” Montana said.
It wasn’t long before the Rams were looking to the heavens for help, though.
Montana completed 18 of 21 first-half passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns . . . and one of his incompletions came when he threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock.
The 49er veteran made San Francisco’s touchdown drive at the end of the first half look like, well, a stroll through Candlestick Park.
The Rams had a fourth-and-1 1/2 situation at the 49er 41-yard line and decided to punt. Three minutes, one second later, Montana made them regret they didn’t go for it.
After John Taylor made a fair catch at the 13, Montana completed eight of 10 passes for 90 yards during the drive. Even a 15-yard penalty on center Jesse Sapolu for unnecessary roughness after Montana had hooked up with Craig for a first down at the Ram 3-yard line, didn’t deter the drive. On the next play, Montana drilled a strike to John Taylor for an 18-yard touchdown to put the 49ers ahead, 20-3.
The Rams showcased their diversified passing attack on their opening drive--Everett completed his first three passes to three different receivers--but they stalled at the San Francisco six-yard line and had to settle for a 23-yard Mike Lansford field goal and a 3-0 lead.
They had a chance to go ahead, 10-0, when Everett lobbed a pass to a wide-open Flipper Anderson, only to see safety Ronnie Lott arrive in time to flick the ball from Anderson’s fingertips.
The Rams took their three-point lead into the second quarter, but then Montana took over. He orchestrated an 89-yard, 13-play drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open tight end Brent Jones when the Ram secondary had a costly mix-up.
Then Everett, whose accuracy had been exceptional in the second half of the season, started to misfire. He threw a pass behind Henry Ellard and the ball bounced off the chest of cornerback Don Griffin and into the waiting arms of cornerback Tim McKyer, who returned it 27 yards to the Ram 27. Five plays later, Craig burst up the middle for a one-yard touchdown that gave the 49ers a 13-3 advantage.
On the Rams’ next possession, Everett threw an ill-advised pass in the direction of Ellard and linebacker Keena Turner intercepted.