Owens Has All the Answers

Times Staff Writer

With no apparent apology to Allen Iverson, Terrell Owens had four words written on one of his wristbands Monday night: "I am The Answer."

The question is obvious: What do the San Francisco 49ers have to do to climb back to the heights they once enjoyed?

It will, of course, take more than merely one of the top receivers in the game. But Owens was the answer Monday night, providing the spark, the consistency and even the self-sacrifice to lead his club to a 30-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in front of a 3Com Park crowd of 67,877 and a national television audience.

Owens' contributions:

* The Spark: He put the first 49er points on the board in the first quarter, hooking up with quarterback Tim Rattay on a 61-yard scoring play. It was a dream scenario for Owens, a well-thrown ball in the air and single coverage on the ground. He took advantage, out-racing cornerback Chad Scott down the left sideline to catch the ball just inside the Pittsburgh 25-yard line and racing home from there.

* The Consistency: Owens caught eight passes for 155 yards on a night when Rattay's passing yardage was 254 (21 for 27). Owens averaged 19.4 per catch in getting the 24th 100-yard game of his career

* The Self-Sacrifice: The other spectacular 49er play of the night was a 78-yard third-quarter scoring run by Kevan Barlow. Taking advantage of one of Pittsburgh's numerous blitzes, Barlow slid through a seam on the left side, cut across the field and headed down the right sideline all the way to the end zone.

But he never would have made it without Owens, who made the key block. Owens eliminated not one, but two Steelers on the play. Owens hit Scott, the two falling in a heap that created a road hazard that brought down another Steeler defender.

"That block," said 49er Coach Dennis Erickson, "might be as impressive as anything I've seen him do. He's made some great plays in his life, but that was something."

Fullback Fred Beasley, who also scored on a touchdown pass from Rattay, who also caught the ball down the left sideline, who also found himself in single coverage, was also an Owens admirer.

"He's able to put the team on his shoulders," Beasley said. "He's very capable of doing that."

Owens' touchdown and Todd Peterson's 32-yard field goal were the only scoring in the first half. The emotion didn't begin until halftime when Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott had his No. 42 retired by the 49ers, the 10th player they have so honored. On the podium with Lott were quarterback Joe Montana, whose plaque in football's Canton, Ohio, shrine was hung the same day as that of Lott.

Also on the podium was Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the owner who reigned over the 49er dynasty spearheaded by Montana and Lott. It was DeBartolo's first appearance at 3Com Park in nearly five years, a gambling scandal and a subsequent feud with his sister, Denise DeBartolo York, having caused him to sever his ties with the team that had been his life. Denise and her husband, John York, now run the 49ers.

The first half may have been a yawner, but all that emotion at halftime seemed contagious.

Jerome Bettis scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter to cut the Steelers' deficit to 10-7.

But with just over 4 1/2 minutes to go in the third quarter, Barlow answered back with his touchdown run. On the ensuing kickoff, Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle El fumbled, the 49ers recovering.

And then, on San Francisco's first play from scrimmage, Rattay connected with Beasley for a touchdown. In the span of 14 seconds on the clock, San Francisco had put the game away.

Peterson added field goals from 22 and 44 yards and Randle El made the score a little more respectable by catching a 32-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Maddox.

"There was love in the greatest huddle of all time, your huddle, Mr. D," said Lott as he addressed the crowd at the half. "You built it. Dr. York, you get to carry the torch."

Monday night was not exactly the glory days revisited. The 49er victory merely moved them to .500 at 5-5 and they did so by a beating a team that fell to 3-7.

But if the 49ers are indeed to return to the glory days, there is no question who the torchbearer will be.

The Answer is obvious.

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