Steve Young, understudy to Joe Montana, used a Montana script to rally the San Francisco 49ers to a 20-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday.
Young, who relieved Montana in the second half, teamed with John Taylor on a 34-yard touchdown pass play with 29 seconds left to enable the 49ers to finish the regular season 14-2, the best record in the NFL.
Montana has led countless comebacks. Last week, Young had the chance, but the 49ers lost, 13-10, to New Orleans.
Minnesota Coach Jerry Burns wasn’t surprised by Young’s heroics Sunday.
“It epitomizes the whole season. We had our chance to win the game and we couldn’t stop them,” Burns said. “I just had a premonition they’d go right down and score and we wouldn’t stop them. The secondary play was sick. The pass rush. The whole thing.
“They know how to win and this team doesn’t. Anytime you win you can feed off that success. You know that, in the past, you’ve come back and won games. This team hasn’t done it.”
NFC Central champions last season, the Vikings (6-10) finished in last place for the first time since 1984. They ended the season with a four-game losing streak.
“You really have to be scratching to find anything positive,” Burns said. “When I saw that guy shoot that gun at the end, that was the most positive thing I saw.”
While Burns’ most frustrating season finally ended, the 49ers will now begin concentrating on the playoffs in an effort to become the first NFL team to win three consecutive Super Bowls and five overall.
“I had a decent day and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to catch 100 balls,” said 49er receiver Jerry Rice, who caught nine passes for 118 yards and became the fourth player ever to reach the 100-reception mark in a season. “I think that’s something to be proud of, but I’m just looking forward to the first playoff game.”
The 49ers’ 18th consecutive road victory extended their own league record. However, they won’t enjoy the “road-field advantage” in the playoffs, having clinched home-field throughout the playoffs two weeks ago.
San Francisco Coach George Seifert said the victory wasn’t insignificant. “Coming into the playoffs, winning the game instead of losing, allows us to have pride in ourselves,” he said.
San Francisco, which won 15 games in 1984 and 14 in 1989 and went on to win the Super Bowl those years, used victories over Minnesota to springboard to its last three championships. The Vikings’ last three seasons have ended with losses to the 49ers.
As he had planned to do before the game, Seifert started Montana and used Young for the entire second half. Montana completed 10 of 20 passes for 88 yards and had one pass intercepted as the 49ers trailed, 10-0, and had a scoreless first half for the first time since Dec. 17, 1989 against Buffalo.
Young sparked the 49ers with his passing and scrambling. He was 15 of 24 for 205 yards passing and added 59 yards in six rushes.
On the winning drive, Young completed six of seven passes for 88 yards and also had a two-yard dive on fourth-and-one. Ken Stills was the closest Minnesota player to Taylor when he caught Young’s pass at the 16 and went untouched into the end zone.
“It’s a play that takes a while to develop,” Young said. “I told the guys in the huddle that we needed a little extra tick to throw the ball.”
Young’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Rice with 8:37 left--which he set up with scrambles of 14 and 19 yards--gave the 49ers a 13-10 lead. Minnesota came back to go up, 17-13, on Alfred Anderson’s one-yard run with 3:14 left before Young did a splendid impression of a Montana rally.
The Vikings, who sacked Montana and Young six times, with Ken Clarke getting three of the sacks, used an aggressive defense and Herschel Walker’s versatility to take their 10-point halftime lead.
After Fuad Reveiz’s 34-yard field goal, Walker capped a 79-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown run. Walker had four carries for 30 yards, caught an 18-yard pass and threw a 12-yard halfback option pass to D.J. Dozier during the drive.
Mike Cofer’s field goals of 29 and 35 yards made it 10-6 early in the fourth quarter.