The injury to Joe Montana - real or concocted - and the performance of Steve Young - suddenly on the spot and without Roger Craig - caused almost as much stir around the Bay Area as last year's earthquake.

Columnists wondered whether the 13-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints Sunday was "an unexpected preview" and "a glimpse into the future" of the 49ers, who sometime soon will certainly be without the aging Montana, now 34, and who could be without the 29-year-old Young next year, since he's in the last year of his $1.1-million-per contract.Some jumped on BYU's Young, whose 102 yards rushing was the sixth-best running performance in the NFL for the week, and who completed 22 of 37 passes for 208 yards, 0 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He came within a two-minute drill of tying or winning the game when, with the team moving, a handoff between Young and rookie running back Dexter Carter on a draw play was fumbled away to the Saints. "I just knew we would score," Young said. The 49ers were on the Saints' 20-yard line with :53 left.

"Young and Dexter Carter botched a simple handoff," noted Frank Cooney of the San Francisco Examiner, who also said Young "raised hell by running around like somebody doing last-minute Christmas shopping. But the timing was missing on passes. This was one reason tight end Brent Jones was hit so hard he fumbled."

Said Saints' linebacker Sam Mills, "Young kept us busy with all that running, but that isn't the way to keep an offense moving consistently."

Cooney relented and said Young, who'd thrown one pass all season, couldn't be expected to have decent timing when he learned at 11 a.m. Sunday that he was the starter.

Another columnist, Ric Bucher of Knight-Ridder, protected Young and blamed the 49er coaching staff for sticking with a game plan designed for Montana. "We might've stretched Young a bit," admitted 49er Coach George Seifert.

There was also some criticism that the Niners treated the game like an exhibition, even experimenting with a no-huddle offense. But Young liked that. He opened the game with it and moved the team 67 yards for a touchdown. "We're good at that," Young told Cooney, "and use it almost exclusively in the two-minute offense. We thought, we're good at this, so why not use it more often? Maybe it will be something we can use in the playoffs. Anyway, we've shown it now so other teams will have to account for it."

Regarding the fumble, Young told Art Spander of the San Francisco Examiner, "The ball popped loose. Too bad."

He told Bucher, "That's a simple thing we do all the time. It's not unusual. And I didn't feel anything unusual happen."

Said Carter, "As far as I know, I didn't ever have the ball."

Regarding his own future, Young told Spander, "It's tough to pride yourself on being a starting quarterback in the NFL and only play one game, but I tell myself that's what the situation is now, and I'll be starting soon. I'm preparing myself to start and win in this league."

Another ex-BYU backup QB, Marc Wilson, stepped in for starter Tommy Hodson after the rookie sprained an ankle Sunday and moved the Patriots 64 yards on eight plays and threw a 24-yard scoring pass to Irving Fryar in the second quarter. Unfortunately, it was New England's only score, and despite decent numbers from Wilson - 18-for-30 for 206 yards - the Pats went to their 13th straight defeat, 42-7 to the New York Jets. "This is bad, it's getting worse, and it doesn't get any easier to live with it," Wilson told Associated Press.

The Jets, on the other hand, had lost five in a row, and former BYU guard Trevor Matich, now with New York, gave USA Today a great line: "Today was so-long-time-coming that it didn't feel like a normal win would feel. It was more like taking a shower after a long camping trip, just standing under the hot water for a long time."

Vai Sikahema of the Phoenix Cardinals, formerly of BYU, is seventh in the NFL in punt returns with an 8.42 average, .01 out of sixth, and ninth in kickoff returns at 20.3 average.

Another ex-Cougar, linebacker Kurt Gouveia, led his Washington Redskins in tackles Saturday with five in Washington's 35-28 loss to Indianapolis.

And former Ute Manny Hendrix had six unassisted tackles and an interception to set up the only score for the Cowboys in their 17-3 loss at Philadelphia Sunday. Ex-Weber Stater Roger Ruzek kicked for five of those Eagles' points but missed a 47-yard field goal in that game.

Another good line from former BYU/Oakland Raider tight end Todd Christensen, now a broadcaster with NBC. He was commenting on the situation as Kansas City quarterback Steve DeBerg, who has a broken left-hand pinky, and the Chiefs began celebrating their 24-21 victory over San Diego that clinched a playoff berth: "DeBerg is giving high fours."