The San Francisco 49ers seem to be back on a Super Bowl track.
Joe Montana threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice and rookie Dexter Carter scored on a 74-yard run Monday night to cap a 26-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.The victory gave two-time defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco (13-1) the best record in the NFL and the home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Los Angeles (5-9) provided the 49ers with their only blemish, a 28-17 setback Nov. 25 at San Francisco. The 49ers then beat the New York Giants 7-3 in an over-hyped matchup and rallied last week to beat Cincinnati 20-17 in overtime.
"I think our approach was more businesslike than last week," linebacker Matt Millen said. "I got the feeling on the sideline of, `Let's just win this game and get out of here.'
"This doesn't feel any different than the first eight weeks of the season, which means that we're just methodically moving along.
"If you wanted to gauge it by the other 27 teams in the league, we're playing pretty well. If you want to gauge it by this team right now, we can still get better.
"Consistency is always the key We just want to be more consistent," Millen said.
Millen recovered a fumbled snap by Ram quarterback Jim Everett to set up Mike Cofer's second field goal of the game, a 31-yarder for a 19-7 lead early in the third quarter.
If it weren't for some penalties by an aggressive 49er secondary, San Francisco may have had a shutout.
"There was no revenge factor," said fullback Tom Rathman, whose 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal midway through the second quarter gave the 49ers a 9-0 lead. "But it would have been awkward to lose two games in a season against them. We just don't like to lose, and that's the bottom line.
"We seem to be a better road team," Rathman said. "We like going into someone's backyard and taking the crowd out of the game. We just want to try and prove something every week. We are not at the level yet that we want to be in the playoffs. We want the momentum, and that's the key."
Rice, who hadn't scored in the previous four games, teamed with Montana for a spectacular 60-yard scoring play late in the second quarter. Rice hauled in the throw at the Ram 15 and dragged safety Anthony Newman the last few yards into the end zone for a 16-0 lead.
"We have been able to give a little bit and go downfield when (defenses) will be sitting on us 10-to-15 yards out," Montana said.
"Now we have to stay sharp and win and not worry about injuries," Montana added. "I think it was important to come in here and win. They (Rams) beat us the last time, and we playd pretty bad. In the first part of that game, we gave up the ball four of the first six times we had it. We felt that if we played better, we'd win."
Los Angeles' only touchdown came on an 8-yard pass from Everett to rookie Derrick Faison - his first NFL score - to cut the margin to 16-7 at halftime.
Cofer and Mike Lansford traded field goals in the third quarter, and Carter scored his first NFL touchdown with a big play 1:16 into the fourth.
Carter blew through a hole in the middle and cut the outside, turned up the left sideline and outraced the coverage.
"I saw a crease and I hit it," Carter said. "All I was thinking about then was to get my first TD."
The Rams, meanwhile, will have no playoffs to cap a mostly forgettable year. The loss erased the Rams' faint hopes for the NFC's third wild card.
"I thought we played well on defense, but the 49ers are beginning to look more dynamic on offense than they were," Rams coach John Robinson said. "The two big plays were disastrous for us. We could not match them big play for big play.
"Their defense is truly outstanding," Robinson said. "I think they played one of the better games I've seen them play."