Bring on the fog, the cold, even the big, bad Chicago Bears.
The San Francisco 49ers finally won a playoff game Sunday after failing for three years to recapture their Super Bowl glory, and they're not about to fret over the elements or the opponent coming up next.If the NFC title game in Chicago turns out to be another Fog Bowl like the game Saturday between the Bears and Philadelphia Eagles, that's perfectly OK with Joe Montana and company.
"I think this is the fog capital of the United States, so we should be used to it," said Montana, who even has a radio talk show for local rock station KFOG.
Montana saw nothing but blue skies Sunday when he lofted three touchdown passes to Jerry Rice and directed two other scoring drives in a 34-9 thumping of the Minnesota Vikings. It was payback time for the 49ers, ousted from the playoffs by the Vikings last year and by the New York Giants in the first playoff game the previous two years.
Montana, who hadn't thrown a touchdown pass in postseason competition since winning the Super Bowl four years ago, looked especially sharp in completing his first seven passes and 16 of 27 overall for 178 yards.
"He was throwing with zip," said Vikings defensive coordinator Floyd Peters. "He put the ball right on the money. He'd roll out, see a guy coming and stop and pop the football in there."
Minnesota defensive end Bubba Baker, frustrated by a failure to put pressure on Montana and thwarted by the 49ers' smaller but quicker offensive line, said San Francisco played "Montana football."
"Nobody likes to get hit, but at this stage of his career Montana can't stand there and take the pounding," Baker said. "You could tell that was a priority of theirs today - to keep the animals off Montana."
The 49ers, though, had much more going for them than Montana. They showed the kind of balance and big-play ability that was typical of their two Super Bowl seasons. "They beat us in every phase of the game," Vikings Coach Jerry Burns said. "They dominated us more this year than we did a year ago."
Roger Craig, NFL offensive player of the year, ran 80 yards for one touchdown and four yards for another. He finished with 135 yards on 21 carries as the 49ers outrushed the Vikings 201 yards to 54.
Ronnie Lott intercepted two passes and the defense sacked Minnesota's Wade Wilson six times. Anthony Carter, who caught 10 passes for 227 yards in the Vikings' 36-24 playoff victory over the 49ers last year, was double-covered most of the game this time and held to three catches.
The key to the defense, though, was the pass rush on Wilson and the array of defensive formations the 49ers used to confuse the Vikings.
"Defensively, we knew we had to take a few more risks in this game," said 49ers Coach Bill Walsh, who called for more blitzing than usual.
Said 49ers All-Pro nose tackle Michael Carter: "We knew we had to get to Wilson, get some kind of pressure in his face, disrupt the blocking scheme and get them jumpy a little bit and looking for things that are not there."
Wilson had impressive final statistics - 23 of 47 for 255 yards - but most of that came in the second half when the Vikings were forced to throw to play catch-up.
In the first half, Wilson was 8 of 13 for 69 yards as the 49ers took a 21-3 lead.
Rice toyed with Minnesota defenders while scoring his three touchdowns in the first half and showed some sleight of hand to seal the victory in the second half. Rice began his show early in the game as he tied an NFL playoff record, shared with five others, for touchdown receptions.
"Everything just worked well for us today," Rice said. "It was very important to grab an early lead. We came out with the right intensity."
On his first touchdown, Rice faked cornerback Carl Lee on a simple down and out for a 2-yard TD catch.
After an interception by Lott gave the 49ers the ball back, Rice ran 21 yards on a reverse, with Montana blocking. Three plays later, Rice stepped in front of Rutland and caught a quick, hard pass from Montana for a 4-yard touchdown.
Rice made the score 21-3 in the second period when he faked Rutland inside out and caught an 11-yard TD pass from Montana.
Rice's most magic moment, though, came late in the third quarter, just when the Vikings seemed to show signs of reviving following a 61-yard touchdown drive.
The 49ers led 21-9 and had the ball on their own 43 yard line. Montana threw a short pass on the left side to Rice.
Vikings cornerback Reggie Rutland, who zigged when he should have zagged on Rice's third TD catch in the second quarter, tried to play hero this time by leaping with his arms outstretched for the ball. If Rutland had intercepted, there was no one between him and the goal line 50 yards away, and the Vikings could have narrowed the deficit to 21-16 going into the fourth quarter.
Instead, Rutland was a split-second late, the ball slipped through his fingers and Rice made it disappear into his own hands.
Rice spun around and turned the catch into a 28-yard gain to Minnesota's 29. Moments later, Craig scored on a 4-yard run to give the 49ers a 28-9 lead.