"I've matured," said Rice after the game. "When I dropped those three balls I didn't get down on myself, the way I did as a rookie. On the short drops I tensed up. I tried to do too much. The one on the goal line? My coach told me I had the ball, but I didn't watch it in. If I'd have dropped that last one, well, I may have just stayed in New York. I couldn't have gone back on the plane."
Try this theory. Young's a lefty, which means his passes have a different rotation than Montana's. They also have a different trajectory and velocity. Then the righthanded Montana comes in, and the receivers have to adjust. "Yeah, the rotation is different," Rice said, "but you work with both of them in practice, so you should be able to catch both guys' passes."
"Different spins," said Craig, who was magnificent on Sunday, rushing for 110 yards on 18 carries and making nine receptions for 69 yards. "You really have to concentrate."
As Walsh tries to work out a system to accommodate both quarterbacks, the mystery deepens. He says Montana will be his starter against Atlanta this week. Montana started against New Orleans in the opener. In that game he had a good first quarter, a bad second quarter and an excellent third quarter with three TD passes before retiring with a big knot on his right elbow. On Wednesday and Thursday of last week the 26-year-old Young worked with the first unit in practice, and Montana sulked.
"I felt that I could have thrown both those days," said Montana on Friday, "but it was obvious who they were going to go with. You can't get ready when you only throw the ball six times a day in practice. They were going to yank me last week against the Saints, but the game got tight and they didn't want to make a change unless they had to. Sure it's tough. It's like someone's waiting for you to screw up. You're afraid of having a bad series.
"All I read in the off-season is that Steve Young is the quarterback of the future. It would be different if I'd had a bad year last season, but it was only one game—the playoff game against the Vikings—and lots of things went wrong that day."
"Look," said Walsh on Friday, "you don't go in with a patched-up quarterback, not against a team like the Giants and not with 14 games still left after that one. If we were in a must-win situation late in the season or playing a lesser team, it would be different. And it would be different if we didn't have someone as talented as Steve backing up Joe.
"But when you've got a Steve Young to fall back on, you'd better use him. He does things no other quarterback can do. He's utterly spontaneous. But Joe is our quarterback. Steve could have a great game against the Giants, but Joe will start the next one. Joe has helped develop a certain character and personality in the team, and when you're at championship level, that character and personality may well be the crux of it."
Young's and Montana's passing statistics were pretty close on Sunday. Young completed 11 of 18 throws for 115 yards, while Montana converted 10 of 18 for 148. Neither was intercepted, but Young fumbled twice—and scrambled for 48 yards. Montana lost no fumbles and had no scrambles. The team gained 211 yards and scored 10 points under Young, 219 yards and 10 points under Montana. At times the complexities of New York's defense gave Young problems, but he had the legs to carry him out of trouble. Montana was more skilled on his reads, but when he felt heat he had to throw the ball away. He couldn't escape.
Young's passes had more zip, especially when he worked the sidelines, but Montana's were more in sync with his receivers. As for the deep stuff, Young didn't try anything serious except a 25-yard crossing pattern to Chandler; the pass was behind him. Montana's 78-yard game-winner to Rice should answer the Bay Area critics who've been moaning he no longer can throw deep.