Troubled minds all around seemed to be the problem in the early going against the Saints. New Orleans stopped three San Francisco drives in the first quarter, one by an interception. A blocked punt set up a Saints field goal, but thanks to the Niner defense. New Orleans led only 3-0 as the quarter ended. Then Montana and the offense took charge.
Four possessions in the second quarter produced three touchdowns. The first two scores came on drives of 56 and 80 yards. The third covered 68 yards in one play—a pass from Montana to wideout John Taylor. A San Francisco fumble had set up New Orleans's only first-half TD—a 27-yard halfback option pass from Dalton Hilliard to wide receiver Lonzell Hill—and the 49ers entered the break leading 21-10. Three second-half field goals by Niner kicker Mike Cofer put the game away.
Montana completed 18 of 29 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown; he ran for another score. Roger Craig rushed for 115 yards and a TD of his own. But if you're looking for the heroes, try the defense, which had a tendency to leak points earlier this season.
After the Saints blocked that punt in the first quarter, they had a first down on the San Francisco 23. Three plays produced only three yards. On its next possession New Orleans got the ball on the 23 again, thanks to cornerback Dave Waymer's interception. The Saints moved to the 10, but rookie defensive linemen Daniel Stubbs and Pierce Holt sacked quarterback Bobby Hebert, and New Orleans wound up back on the 22. Morton Anderson then missed a 40-yard field goal attempt.
"With all the chances we had, we could've been up 14-0, and they would've been playing catch-up," said Hebert afterward.
"To win in the playoffs, you have to have defense," said San Francisco center Randy Cross. "For the first time people are starting to realize how good our defense is. For years they've been dazzled by all our offensive stars."
The defensive play of the game was made by the 49ers' right cornerback, Eric Wright, whose career seemed over when he missed the better part of the last two seasons with a severe groin injury. In the second quarter Hebert called a deep post pattern to his fastest receiver, Brett Perriman. Wright read the play, got a perfect break on the ball and made a picture interception. "I thought I had him," said Hebert. "I'd looked the free safety off, and it was just Wright against Perriman, but Wright made a great play. I don't know if the NFL gives a comeback player of the year award, but it should go to Eric Wright."
Even though the win put San Francisco comfortably in control of the division, Walsh's postgame remarks were prickly. "I know many of you have picked this team we played to go all the way," he said. "We managed to hold them off another year."
Translation: That'll show you, all you doubters and disbelievers.
" New Orleans is a great team," he continued. "They came to play the game of their history, I was told."