"Play-action passes have been killing them," said Paul Hackett, the 49ers' quarterback and receivers coach. "The inside linebackers come right up to the line of scrimmage."
San Francisco's idea was to set Miami up with quick passes to Dwight Clark, going against cornerbacks Don McNeal and, especially, William Judson, who likes to keep things in front of him, and then to hit the Dolphin defenders with the run, and finally to bring it all together with play-action passes to the backs or tight end Russ Francis, cutting for the hole in the middle of the Miami secondary. The veteran Dolphin safeties, Lyle and Glenn Blackwood, are ferocious tacklers, but they've lost a step, and if they missed a tackle or two....
And finally there was Montana, the unchartable element—"a lithe, almost sensuous athlete," as Walsh once called him. A supergame by Montana could turn the thing into a blowout.
The plan worked better than anyone had a right to expect. In the first quarter Montana connected with 166-pound Carl Monroe, halfback Wendell Tyler's backup, for a 33-yard touchdown on a deep in-and-out over the middle, with Lyle Blackwood a step slow on the coverage. The second TD was to fullback Roger Craig, an eight-yard slant over Brophy. Two passes to Francis set up the third score, a six-yard scramble by Montana. "I'd audibled to a quick-slant to Clark," Montana said, "but someone backed into the coverage inside, and I saw a hole and just took off."
The backs did the work on Niners TD No. 4, the last of the first half, with three straight running plays for a total of 12 yards, ending in Craig's two-yard burst. Montana's 12-yard scramble set up a field goal on the 49ers' first drive of the third quarter. Their last touchdown, which put the cruncher on the Dolphins, came on the Niners' next possession. It was built around a 40-yard crossing pattern to Tyler, in which Montana sprinted away from the rush. The score came on another cross, 16 yards to Craig, on which outside linebacker Bob Brudzinski lost coverage.
Tyler, who has had to live with a fumbling rap for his entire career, had no such problems against the Dolphins-in fact he didn't cough the ball up at all in San Francisco's three postseason games. He led Sunday's rushers with 65 yards and caught four passes for 70 more. Craig grabbed eight for 82 in the back-oriented passing game, and Francis had five receptions, equaling his most productive day of the season.
The 49er defense was built on individual heroics that melded into a shutout of Miami in the second half. Lott killed a second-quarter drive in the end zone by leaping with Clayton and getting his helmet in the way of one of Marino's patented fade-pattern throws. Wright turned acrobat to knock down a third-down pass to Duper and kill a drive in the same period, and then he squelched Miami's last genuine threat to get back into the game, late in the third quarter, when he made a leaping interception on the San Francisco one-yard line.
The Dolphins' postgame dressing room was overflowing with despair—and bewilderment.
"We blitzed a bit in the second half," Brown said, "but it seemed like every time we got there Montana was already out of the pocket."
"Our major objective was to contain Montana," defensive coach Chuck Studley said, "and we did a terrible, terrible job of it."