Howard did make one major Hub last Saturday when he was literally caught with his pants down. Late returning to the held for the second-half kickoff because he was changing into a clean uniform, Howard left the Packers return team a man short, and at the last second Rison rushed onto the field to take Howard's place as one of two deep men. Jeff Wilkins's kick skidded past the other deep back, Don Beebe, and the Niners' Steve Israel beat Rison to the ball at the four. That set up quarterback Elvis Grbac's touchdown run on the next play, cutting Green Bay's lead to 21-14.
Otherwise Green Bay showed remarkable discipline, turning the ball over only once despite fumbling five times and incurring just one penalty—an intentional delay of game with less than three minutes to play. The Niners brutalized themselves with five turnovers. The most damaging came when rookie wideout Terrell Owens dropped his third pass of the first half and the ball bounced into the arms of corner-back Craig Newsome. That set the Packers up at the San Francisco 15, and three plays later Bennett scored from the two.
What's more, injuries crippled the Niners, with quarterback Steve Young and defensive tackle Bryant Young forced out in the first quarter. Attempting to play with two broken ribs on his left (throwing) side, Steve Young took approximately 30 pain-killing injections in the hours leading up to the game, but he was so ineffective in the first two series against the Packers that he went to the sideline and never returned. Having also taken shots during the week, the Niners' quarterback seemed loopy last Friday as he relaxed in his hotel room and talked about the hit that broke his ribs during the previous week's wild-card victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. He insisted that Greg Townsend had been responsible. Told that Townsend has been out of football since 1995, he laughed and replied, "No, Bro, it was him. They told me it was." After Bryant Young went down with a neck injury, the 49ers couldn't stop the Packers' ground attack. Green Bay ran 26 times for 99 yards in the second half.
With Grbac's contract up and Steve Young's ability to stay healthy in question, the 49ers must decide on their quarterback of the future since team president Carmen Policy acknowledged that it will be virtually impossible to keep both passers under the salary cap. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman may be let go, and given San Francisco's history when it has fallen short of the Super Bowl, other big changes could be coming.
The 49ers got little sympathy from the Packers, who were angered by comments made earlier in the week by San Francisco strong safety Tim McDonald. Among other things McDonald said the Niners were looking forward to playing in Green Bay because San Francisco had dominated the line of scrimmage despite losing 23-20 in overtime at Lambeau on Oct. 14. McDonald said his words were intended to make the Packers feel the heat, but Green Bay's players hardly wilted and were still riled at game's end. "All game long it was talk, talk, talk—that's why I hate them so much," Packers strong safety LeRoy Butler said after the game, "Just lose and get the f—-out of town. Go back to the surf."
Holmgren had nothing but sweet talk for Carolina, whose win over the Cowboys deprived the Pack of a chance to break its seven-game losing streak to Dallas. "They've been a Cinderella team all year," Holmgren said, "and what they've accomplished is incredible. But I feel very good about where we are too."
It wasn't Lombardiesque, but Holmgren sounded like a man who knew what he was talking about.