" Haynes was supposed to bump Rice before he switched coverage," says Montana. "He didn't. He gave him a clean release. I faked a slant pattern to John Taylor on the other side, and that froze the free safety, Steve Atwater. That's the thing about them. They kept following my eyes. Every time I looked somewhere, they overplayed. They showed that on film, and they never changed. Actually, they never changed anything they showed on film."
Smith is one of the Broncos' big hitters. So is Atwater, the 217-pound rookie. But they were whiffing as much as they were hitting, and on some of the hits the Niner receivers simply refused to go down. For example, on the first of Rice's three touchdown catches—a 20-yarder that capped San Francisco's first series—he bounced off Atwater at the Denver eight-yard line. "Rice was made to be a receiver, and Taylor's not far behind," said Craig in the locker room after the game. "They're not intimidated by the big safeties in this league. They're as good as running backs."
"Hey, Joe, you didn't even get wounded today," says Jim Bell, a friend of Montana's father.
"If I didn't get so tired, I could have played three games," says Montana. "I only got touched twice—once when I scrambled out of bounds—and I didn't get sacked at all."
Uh, make that one sack. The scramble was for no yards, technically a sack. "Is that right?" says Montana. "I should have dove for the yard. Those guys on the offensive line are going to kill me."
Let's hear it for the offensive line, left to right: tackle Bubba Paris, splitting time with Steve Wallace; guard Guy McIntyre; center Jesse Sapolu; guard Bruce Collie, splitting time with Terry Tausch; and Harris Barton, the mobile tackle who pulled and led the counter plays. At times Montana got as many as three looks to spot his receivers. On one of the rare occasions when Denver came with an all-out blitz, the Niners' front wall cut the rushers down like a firing squad. After that the Broncos stopped blitzing and played their same old layback zone.
With things neatly in place up front, the rest of the offense was merrily efficient, as it had been in the 49ers' first two playoff games. Rice, who finished with seven receptions for 148 yards, and Taylor, who had three catches for 49 yards, including a 35-yard score, flitted through the Denver zone like hummingbirds. Craig bounced off tackles for 103 yards running and receiving. Fullback Tom Rathman, who banged the left side for three short-yardage first downs, pulled off the most remarkable play of the day, corkscrewing his 232-pound body to make a one-handed reach-back catch at the Bronco 10 to set up the 49ers' third touchdown—a one-yard Rathman plunge three plays later. And of course, Montana was the master architect, completing 22 of 29 passes for 297 yards.
"People talk about our great offensive scheme," said inside linebacker Matt Millen. "Yeah, it's brilliant in its conception, but with lesser talent, it's nowhere. I mean how many teams have a Montana and Taylor and Rice and Craig and Rathman? I'll tell you, man, it's talent."
"I think this is the best offensive team I've ever seen," someone says as Montana watches himself being interviewed on TV.
"A lot of weapons," says Montana. "An awful lot of weapons."