49ers Wake Up and Rough Up Bledsoe, Patriots : Pro football: New England quarterback separates shoulder as Young accounts for four touchdowns in 28-3 victory.


Not all showdowns end in blazes.

Sometimes they end the way it did Sunday at Candlestick Park, with the kid losing his shoulder, then his nerve.

Sometimes they end with the veteran eschewing a celebration for kind words of caution.

It was bad this time , Steve Young was explaining after his San Francisco 49ers humiliated Drew Bledsoe's New England Patriots, 28-3.

But if Bledsoe is not careful , he was saying, there will not be a next time .

"If you are going to be a good quarterback in this league, you have to be willing to answer back week in and week out, in all kinds of adversity," Young said. "Drew will learn that."

The hard way, apparently.

The right-handed Bledsoe suffered a mildly separated left shoulder midway through the first quarter, returned to the game early in the second period after doctors said he could play . . . but was never the same.

Young suffered through an interception, two hard sacks and only 72 passing yards in the first 28 minutes . . . then was never better.

The veteran ended the game smiling, unbruised and the author of three touchdown passes and one touchdown sneak.

"We were lethargic, we got smacked in the face," Young said. "When you can win like that, it's another notch in your belt.

"When something else bad happens down the road, we can now say, 'Yeah, but remember the Patriot game.' "

The kid ended it dressed in enough analgesic balm to coat Coit Tower, with a red shoulder, glassy eyes and zero explanations.

"It's like we're cursed," Bledsoe said.

Or just not ready to face a defending world champion that is actually using respect as a motivational tool.

The 49ers defense, spurned last week by Deion Sanders, played the way Jerry Rice has been talking. In rude, profane tones.

The injury-causing hit that Ken Norton Jr. laid on Bledsoe after he threw an incomplete pass midway through the first period--it actually seemed to swallow Bledsoe--was only one of many insults before 69,951 at Candlestick Park.

Six times, Patriot drives stalled inside the 49er 20-yard line.

Once, safety Merton Hanks wrestled away a ball from receiver Vincent Brisby on the goal line.

Another time, Curtis Martin's fourth-down plunge up the middle at the 15-yard line was stopped in a high-low tackle by Gary Plummer and Hanks.

In what proved to be the Patriots' biggest flop, late in the second quarter in a scoreless tie, Bledsoe's 15-yard touchdown pass to Ben Coates was nullified because guard Todd Ruccie had grabbed and nearly tackled backup defensive lineman Junior Bryant on the play.

"It's a joke," safety Tim McDonald said of the public's perception of the 49er defense. "People around here don't appreciate good defensive football. We have to prove ourselves over and over and over. We have to fight for respect every game."

That penalty-stalled drive ended in a field goal and wake-up call. Trailing for the first time this year, the 49ers shifted into their no-huddle offense and took the lead less than two minutes later on a trademark, 21-yard slant pass from Young to Rice.

Now the questioning begins.

The Patriots have a bye next week. Will Bledsoe's shoulder allow him to return after that? Considering Coach Bill Parcells forced him to finish this one-sided game, probably.

"Doctors said he could play, so he played," Parcells said.

A bigger question might be, how soon do the Patriots want him to return.

Even as their blitzing defense was confusing Young in the first half, Bledsoe was throwing hurriedly, and wildly, and behaving exactly like the only AFC starter who has not thrown a touchdown pass. He is also the only AFC starter with a $42-million contract.

Last year after three games, he had eight.

"After the injury, he got a little jumpy back there, throwing a little quicker than he wanted," said 49er linebacker Gary Plummer. "He's almost like a young John Elway, counting on his arm strength to get him out of trouble."

Fifteen times, Bledsoe has led the team within the opponents' 20-yard line this year. Yet only once have they scored. The 49ers have entered that territory 13 times, and scored nine.

"I guess the defense is going to have to start scoring," said Patriot defensive tackle Reggie White, whose team is lucky to have won one of three games.

The 49ers, 3-0, have also been a tad lucky. Perhaps not until Nov. 12 in Dallas will the football world see if they are still so good.


Troy Aikman called his team's performance in 23-17 overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings "unacceptable." C9

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