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Is the equation really right for the 49ers? Have they really arrived? They'll find out in November. That's the killer month for them: Pittsburgh at Three Rivers, Atlanta and Cleveland at Candlestick, and then the Rams again, in Anaheim. "Tough teams, teams that have been there," Reynolds says, "teams that can come back from 10 points down without panicking. If we're consistent, we'll be all right. That's the key, consistency. We beat Dallas big; that was O.K. for the kids, but to me, Dallas didn't show up. I've never seen the Cowboys so flat. The Rams today? A good win but a lucky one."
The 49ers also have been lucky with injuries. They lost Wersching for the first four games with a pulled hip muscle, but he has been their only major casualty. They're still a team in transition. Twenty faces on their roster weren't around last year. That shows on special teams, which play like their members are still waiting to be introduced.
San Francisco's punt-return and kick-off-return stats, both offensively and defensively, are worse than they were last year, when they were pretty bad. The punt-coverage team is a disaster. The players regularly take the wrong lanes; the 49ers are allowing 14 yards per return, worst in the NFL. The Rams' LeRoy Irvin killed them with his returns Sunday—seven of them for 127 yards—and Johnnie Johnson had a 39-yarder. Four of the Rams' last five possessions started at their 49 or closer.
It's a credit to the San Francisco defense, and Corral's errant instep, that L.A. came up with nothing to show for all that. In fact, it's the defense that's setting the tone for the 49ers. "We don't have to play wide-open offense the way we used to, because our defense is so much better," Fahnhorst says. "We don't throw the ball like crazy anymore. It's not as much fun, but we win more."
You wouldn't recognize the 49er offense these days. This year, as opposed to last, San Francisco runs the ball more often than it throws. Joe Montana, who threw two first-quarter touchdown passes Sunday, has risen to the top of the NFC ratings with a careful approach. He has had only five interceptions all year, and on Sunday his 32 passes without an interception boosted him past John Brodie's club record of 95 straight. Montana now has 99 and the meter is running.
The defense has made that kind of conservative approach possible. For the first time since the sack happy Tommy Hart-Cedrick Hardman team of '76, you can look at the 49ers' defensive stats without laughing. They have allowed only six touchdowns in the last five games, and in the three games that Dean has been with them, they have 13 sacks, counting the six Sunday. The Rams converted one of their last nine third-down tries; the Packers made zero of 10.
As the 49ers were running off the field after the Green Bay game, Dwight Clark, the team's leading receiver, yelled, "Look out L.A., the boys are coming home!" Well, they're home now and they're winners, and before killer November is over, they'll find out just how good they really are.