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Paul Zimmerman
September 19, 1988
After digging themselves into a hole, the 49ers struck for a last-minute win against a very dubious Giants defense
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September 19, 1988

Better Late Than Never

After digging themselves into a hole, the 49ers struck for a last-minute win against a very dubious Giants defense

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And the switch from Young to Montana? "In the first half it seemed natural to go with Steve," said Walsh. "Then it seemed natural to go with Joe."

What's unusual about the 49ers is that they're in transition, yet they remain a championship-level team. With free safety Ronnie Lott sidelined because of a pulled hamstring, only three of Sunday's starters had been in the starting lineup for the 1985 Super Bowl—Cross and Craig on offense, inside linebacker Riki Ellison on defense. Only Cross started in the '82 Super Bowl.

The Niners are looking for a possession receiver to do what Dwight Clark used to do for them. Chandler, the former Charger who's nearing the end of an 11-year career, is not the answer. John Frank, who caught two TD passes against the Saints, appears to be on the verge of a big season, but he missed the Giants game because of severely bruised ribs. So Craig had to carry the offense, and he was at his best, following fullback Tom Rathman's precise blocks. Craig, however, traditionally wears down under a season of pounding.

"I'm trying to get as much rest as I can and take care of my body," he says. "I've even hired a masseur. I know it's going to be tough to do this every week."

As for the Giants, who are in the toughest part of their season, defending against desperation passes isn't their only problem. Right tackle Karl Nelson went down with a severe ankle sprain. His replacement, 305-pound rookie John Elliott, played all right against the 49ers' power rushers, but speed rushers like linebacker- defensive end Charles Haley gave him big problems. The other tackle, No. 1 draft pick Eric Moore, was supposed to compete with William Roberts for the first-string job, but Moore wasn't even on the active roster.

The Giants' offense, which was under constant pressure from San Francisco's outside rushers, is still herky-jerk, and the defense has given up 816 yards in two weeks. Lawrence Taylor's 30-day drug suspension will sideline him for another two games. The Giants' other All-Pro outside linebacker, Carl Banks, is still struggling. Walsh, whose game plan is largely predicated on working over a defensive weak spot, aimed much of his firepower at New York's strong side—i.e., Banks. Few teams dared do that in '87. Right now the Giants' best defender is inside linebacker Pepper Johnson.

But the season is young, and just about the time Taylor and Banks are getting their legs under them, the Giants will be heading into the Detroit- Atlanta phase of their campaign. New York and San Francisco have met seven times in the last five seasons, including three times in the playoffs. You get the feeling that their next encounter will take place in the postseason. "It was a great game," said Walsh on Sunday, "a real NFL championship-level football game."

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