49ers Just Barely Hold Off Giants in Defensive Gem : Football: Montana’s pass to Taylor accounts for only touchdown of the game in San Francisco’s 7-3 victory.


Buildup and blowouts are usually the rule of thumb for games breathlessly referred to as Super Bowl Jr.

You call something “The Game of the Year,” as many had designated Monday evening’s meeting between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants, and you usually get a stinker of epic proportions.

Not this time.

For a pleasant change of pace, the hitting equaled the hype. It wasn’t artistic, mind you, but if nothing else, the 49ers’ 7-3 victory over the Giants had a certain primitive flair to it.


“This was the best football game I’ve seen in my nine years associated with the National Football League,” 49er offensive guard Bubba Paris declared afterward.

He had a point.

This was a game in which Giant quarterback Phil Simms and 49er free safety Ronnie Lott went after each other not once, but twice. Pleasantries were not exchanged.

This was a game in which the 49ers’ defense, which is rarely praised with the same eloquence as the 49ers’ offense, made two vital goal-line stands, including one late in the fourth quarter. Even later in the game, San Francisco thwarted another last-gasp Giant drive as end Kevin Fagan sacked Simms as time expired. So mad was Simms that he slammed the ball to the ground. Just now it’s coming down.

As usual, the Giants tried all their old favorites: the smashmouth run tactics, the safe passes to their backs, the throws to tight end Mark Bavaro. Almost nothing worked and if it did, it didn’t work for long.

“It was one of those games where we expected them to do what they ended up doing,” said 49er linebacker Matt Millen. “They never got out of their game plan.”

They also never scored a touchdown, although they had their chances.

Chance No. 1 resulted in a measly field goal.

Chance No. 2 had a little more drama to it.

With less than five minutes left to be played and the 49ers leading, 7-3, Simms found himself at the San Francisco nine-yard line.

His first pass sailed through the end zone. His second one was overthrown. His third one was knocked away by Lott. His fourth one (the Giants decided against the field goal) was batted away by cornerback Darryl Pollard at the absolute last moment.

"(The 49ers) have a powerful offense, so we thought we had to go for it,” Giant Coach Bill Parcells said. “We had four shots from the 10 and couldn’t get it into the end zone. Then we got the ball back, but with not enough time.”

Thirty-six seconds might be enough for Joe Montana to stage an unlikely comeback, but it wasn’t near enough for Simms and the Giants’ low-tech offense. Rather than throw downfield, Simms, who had to start at San Francisco’s 44, was forced to toss short passes to halfback Dave Meggett. Those got him to San Francisco’s 27.

With three seconds left, Simms tried his hand at the improbable, mainly a long bomb. Fagan would have none of that. He grabbed Simms by the ankles and wrestled him to the ground.

“In the second half, we were trying to throw the ball on them a lot, but the pass coverage was darn good,” Simms said.

The 49ers raised their record to 11-1, which will help considerably when the home-field advantage is determined for the NFC championship. Meanwhile, the Giants dropped to 10-2, their second loss in as many games.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Parcells said. “We’re just a wild-card (team) right now.”

An offensive festival, this wasn’t. Pity the blokes in Great Britain who were treated to their first live broadcast of an NFL game. Beginning at 2 a.m. London time, sets clicked on in anticipation. They probably clicked off by halftime. After all, there are soccer games with higher halftime scores.

“They were probably thinking we’re bloody fools,” Millen said.

True enough. There wasn’t the hint of a scoring drive in the first quarter. Of course, this sort of thing happens when Simms is busy completing two of five passes for 22 yards or Montana is racking up 27 meaningless yards of his own.

Open receivers were so scarce that Montana once was forced to throw to little-used tight end Jamie Williams, who catches a pass every other month or so. Finding an uncovered wide receiver, such as Jerry Rice or John Taylor, was out of the question . . . for a while.

Yards didn’t come easily in the early going. The 49ers crossed into Giant territory once, and it wasn’t exactly an extended journey, either. They made it to the New York 45 and punted a play later.

The Giants broke across the 50-yard line once, too, in the first quarter, but didn’t have a thing to show for it.

And so it went--punt after punt after punt (with a missed 49er field goal mixed in)--until the Giants finally managed a score. Matt Bahr did the honors with a 20-yard field goal with 3:36 remaining in the second quarter.

As key plays go, the Giants will always remember the third down-and-six pass that caromed off 49er safety Dave Waymer and into the hands of Giant wide receiver Stephen Baker. The 11-yard gain moved New York to 49er three. Three plays later, Bahr gave New York a brief 3-0 lead.

With time dwindling down in the half and the ball on San Francisco’s 41, Montana found halfback Roger Craig open on a quick slant pattern. Craig, who had slipped past linebacker Pepper Johnson, rambled 31 yards to the Giant 28.

Less than two minutes remained when Montana, with the ball at the Giant 23, dropped back once more and found Taylor running a post pattern and cornerback Mark Collins trying desperately to catch up.

Collins never had a chance. Montana’s pass found Taylor in perfect stride and the 49ers had their lead. For good.

COMMENTARY: The entertainment was provided in an unlikely fashion--spectacular defense. Bob Oates’ pro football column, C9.