Dirty Birds soar to victory
Anderson, Falcons hold off 49ers for 20-18 playoff win
Posted: Sunday January 10, 1999 09:08 AM
ATLANTA (AP) -- Dan Reeves' heart must be doing just fine if he can endure this.
Jamal Anderson scored two touchdowns, Atlanta intercepted three of Steve Young's passes and the Falcons overcame a questionable call to beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-18 in a stirring divisional playoff Saturday.
Astonishingly, the Falcons -- a team that has only eight winning seasons in 33 years -- are one victory away from their first Super Bowl appearance. They advance to their first NFC championship game next weekend to meet either Minnesota or Arizona.
It wasn't easy.
With Reeves back on the sideline for the first time since heart bypass surgery Dec. 14, the Falcons built a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter, but made the final seconds more nerve-wracking than they needed to be.
Young scored on an 8-yard run with 2:57 remaining, and the 49ers converted a two-point conversion after botching the snap on the extra point. Anderson ran for one first down, but then squandered a chance to nearly run out the clock by inexplicably running out of bounds with 49 seconds left.
San Francisco got the ball back on its own 4 with 33 seconds left and no timeouts. Young threw a 23-yard pass to Chuck Levy, but William White made sure there wasn't another miracle for the 49ers, intercepting a pass on the final play of the game.
"It's unbelievable. The whole year has been incredible," Reeves said. "To get to this point is beyond our wildest dreams."
San Francisco (13-5), which finished two games behind Atlanta in the NFC West, lost Garrison Hearst on the first play of the game. The 1,500-yard rusher broke a bone when his left leg buckled under him.
With Terry Kirby taking over the bulk of the running duties, the 49ers rushed for only 46 yards.
Anderson eclipsed 100 yards for the third time this season against San Francisco. He carried 29 times for 113 yards, including touchdown runs of 2 and 34 yards that gave the Falcons a 14-0 lead in the first half.
Still, the 49ers made a game of it, once again benefiting from a questionable official's call, just as they did the week before in their last-second, wild-card victory over Green Bay.
Late in the first half, Kirby dropped a lateral pass from Young, and there was a frenzied scramble on the Georgia Dome turf. The ball popped up in the air, and Chuck Smith returned it for an apparent touchdown that would have given the Falcons a 21-0 lead.
Instead, line judge Ron Baynes ruled that Kirby briefly gained possession of the ball and his knee was down when touched by Atlanta linebacker Henri Crockett. Reeves vehemently protested the call, but otherwise seemed to keep his emotions in check.
San Francisco, which defeated the Packers 30-27 after the officials missed a fumble by Jerry Rice on the winning drive, took advantage of this call, too.
The 49ers converted a third-and-23 before Young hit Rice with a 17-yard touchdown pass, cutting Atlanta's lead to 14-7 with 1:10 remaining in the first half. Rice was listed as probable before the game with a sprained right knee.
Then, ancient Charles Haley deflected a pass by Chris Chandler, the ball popped into the arms of San Francisco's Junior Bryant, who returned the interception to the Atlanta 36. Wade Richey kicked a 36-yard field goal on the final play of the half, and the momentum seemed to have turned for the 49ers.
But two key defensive plays ensured the third playoff victory in Atlanta history - and its first since 1991.
Eugene Robinson picked off Young's pass at the San Francisco 3, running it back 77 yards to set up Morten Andersen's 29-yard field goal.
The 49ers moved into Atlanta territory again, but another errant pass by Young was intercepted by William White. He returned it 14 yards, and a 15-yard personal foul put the ball at the San Francisco 36.
The Falcons moved into position for Andersen's 32-yard field goal, making it 20-10 with 10:33 remaining. That turned out to be just enough points against the 49ers and showed that Atlanta's 14-2 regular season wasn't a fluke.
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