The San Francisco 49ers took their first step toward making NFL history.

Joe Montana threw two touchdowns passes and San Francisco's defense denied Washington three times inside the 15-yard line in the second half Saturday, sending the two-time defending NFL champion 49ers to a 28-10 triumph over the Redskins.The victory ran San Francisco's playoff winning streak to seven and advanced the 49ers to their third straight NFC championship game. The 49ers, seeking an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl title and record fifth Super Bowl victory, will play host to the winner of Sunday's game between the Chicago Bears and New York Giants.

"We had something to prove," said 49ers receiver Jerry Rice, who caught 6 passes for 68 yards. "We wanted to come out and play aggressive football. We couldn't wait to get back on the football field. We have everyone healthy now and we're ready to make a run."

Washington, which defeated Philadelphia in last week's NFC wildcard game, ended its season 11-7.

"Montana gives them a super edge," Washington Coach Joe Gibbs said. "He's probably one of the best players to play that position. He handles the ball extremely well and makes great plays throughout the game. Every time we've played him, he's been impressive.

"Some of his throws today would have been 3 to 5 inches either way, we'd make the play."

San Francisco trailed 10-7 after the first quarter before Montana threw touchdown passes of 10 yards to Jerry Rice and eight yards to Mike Sherrard, giving the 49ers a 21-10 lead at the half. Montana finished 22 of 31 for 274 yards, the two scores and an interception.

From there, the 49ers, whose defense was ranked second-best in the NFC, shut down the Redskins to preserve the victory.

Washington had three chances to cut into the 49ers' lead but quarterback Mark Rypien threw two interceptions in the end zone and an incompletion on a fourth-down pass.

The Redskins marched to the San Francisco 7 midway through the third quarter but Rypien was late in throwing to Art Monk on a crossing pattern and was intercepted by Johnny Jackson.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Redskins drove to the 49ers 15 when Rickey Sanders fell and Rypien's pass was picked off by Darryl Pollard.

On the 49ers ensuing possession, linebacker Monte Coleman picked off a Montana pass at the San Francisco 19, but Rypien's fourth-down pass from the 14 fell incomplete with 9:06 left.

The 49ers defense then scored a touchdown of its own when Rypien was hit by Charles Haley. Michael Carter, the 1984 Olympic shot put silver medalist, picked it off in the air and the 300-pound nose guard rambled 61 yards for the score with 57 seconds left.

"Guys on the sidelines were yelling 'delay of game' as Carter ran the ball in," Montana said jokingly.

San Francisco's defense was able to corral Rypien but couldn't stop Monk, who caught 10 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown.

The 49ers rode their passing game to a 21-10 halftime lead as Montana dissected the Washington secondary with pinpoint passing. He completed 14 of 19 in the first half for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

"With their man-to-man coverage, there is going to be a lot of big plays," Montana said. "So it was really important for us to be patient and take what they were giving us."

The Redskins opened the scoring, taking their opening possession 74 yards in eight plays for a 7-0 lead. Monk made two key plays on the drive, springing Earnest Byner for a 16-yard gain with a pancake block on Pollard and then beating the San Francisco cornerback to catch the 31-yard TD pass.

The 49ers wasted little time matching Washington, driving 74 yards in eight plays to tie the score on a 1-yard dive by Tom Rathman with 4:54 left in the first quarter. Montana completed all 4 of his passes on the march for 64 yards and the 49ers were aided by a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Darryl Green, who slammed Rice to the turf after an 11-yard reception.

Washington scored its final points of the half with 36 seconds left in the quarter on a 44-yard Chip Lohmiller field goal to take a 10-7 lead.

The second quarter was classic Montana. Forced to scramble because of the relentless Washington pass rush, the 49er quarterback picked the Redskins secondary apart completing 8-of-13 passes for 66 yards and the two TDS.

On the 49ers opening drive of the period, Montana completed passes of 14 yards to Roger Craig and 16 yards to John Taylor to help move the ball to the Washington 34. On the next play, Harry Sydney - a former wishbone quarterback from Kansas - launched a halfback pass that was hauled in by tight end Brent Jones at the Washington 6. Three plays later, Montana made it 14-10, threading a pass to Rice in the end zone, who was double-covered by Green and Todd Bowles.

The 49ers made it 21-10 on their next possession. Montana hit Craig for 32 yards and Jones for 47 to key the drive. He capped the drive by hitting Sherrard, who was taken off the injured reserve list on Saturday, on a crossing pattern from eight yards out.