It doesn't get any simpler than Steve Young to Jerry Rice and it doesn't get any more breathtaking.
The dynamic quarterback-receiver tandem led another offensive show by the San Francisco 49ers, who beat the Atlanta Falcons 31-20 Sunday on the strength of a dazzling first half."It's unbelievable because we have so many faces on this offense. Today was my day," Rice said. "I don't think we're working on all cylinders right now, but I guarantee you, towards the middle or the end of the season, we're going to be even sharper and more explosive."
San Francisco was certainly explosive at the outset.
Young ended the first offensive series with his 200th career touchdown pass, a 66-yarder to Rice, who outjumped two defenders for the ball and then outran Atlanta's secondary to the end zone.
"It was a great way to get started," said coach Steve Mariucci, adding Young and Rice ad-libbed the hookup when they saw an opening in the defense. "It was a great play between two great players."
Young and Rice teamed up again just before halftime on a 26-yard pass as the 49ers (3-0) bolted to a 31-7 lead over Atlanta (2-1) and then coasted through a rainy second half to the victory.
It was Falcons' seventh straight loss at San Francisco, during which they've been outscored 288-115.
"They keep you off balance a great deal. They have a great attack," Atlanta coach Dan Reeves said. "When we had chances to make some plays, we didn't seem to make them and they did."
The 49ers had 538 yards in total offense to go over 500 yards for a third straight week for the first time in team history.
Young was 28-of-39 for 387 yards and three touchdowns and Rice finished with eight catches for 162 yards, his first 100-yard receiving game since Dec. 8, 1996.
So desperate were the Falcons to keep the ball away from San Francisco's league-leading offense that, trailing 14-7, they resorted to an onside kick with 3:51 left in the first quarter.
The gamble worked but only delayed the inevitable.
Reunited this season after Rice missed virtually all of last year with two major knee injuries, Young and his favorite receiver have hooked up for 78 touchdowns. That leaves them one behind the NFL's all-time quarterback-receiver touchdown combo - Dan Marino and Mark Clayton.
"Every receiver in the league admires Jerry Rice," said Atlanta's Terance Mathis, who had seven catches for 130 yards and two scores. "He's trying to get back in a groove and this was a great confidence builder."
The 49ers also got help from Marc Edwards, who scored on a 7-yard run, and J.J. Stokes, who caught Young's third scoring pass, a 3-yarder.
As for the Falcons' offense, Mathis led the way, catching a 49-yard TD pass from Chris Chandler after it had been deflected by defensive backs Darnell Walker and Merton Hanks.
Mathis and Chandler also teamed up on a 31-yarder with 7:23 left. Jamal Anderson rushed 13 times for 123 yards, including a 4-yard TD run with 13:11 remaining.
After Mathis' first scoring catch, Morten Andersen's pooch kickoff bounced off Curtis Buckley's leg and Juran Bolden recovered at the Atlanta 37.
But Chandler, with defensive tackle Junior Bryant bearing down on him, lofted a deep pass to the double-covered Tim Dwight and Zack Bronson came down with the first of his two interceptions at the San Francisco 7.
Young proceeded to drive the 49ers 93 yards, finishing off the march with the scoring pass to Stokes.
Atlanta was unable to sustain a consistent offensive attack against the 49ers until late, when San Francisco had the game well in hand.
The 49ers got to Chandler for seven sacks, 21/2 by former Falcon Chris Doleman.