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"Yeah, he hit me, but it didn't feel that hard," said Montana. "Jerry was in man-to-man in the middle. I just had to wait."
His day in general?
"Streaks, I was throwing in streaks," he said. "At times I was hitting; at times I was not hitting. They tried to play zone. That didn't work. They tried to play man. That didn't work, either."
Barton, a notorious worrier, wasn't happy. "The running game [50 yards on 24 attempts] isn't here," he said. "Special teams were a problem [two blocked punts, one for an Atlanta TD]. We have a lot of work to do."
Still buzzing were rumors of a trade for Los Angeles Raider running back Marcus Allen. Still puzzling is the death of the Niner running attack (chart, page 27). Some 49er observers say that Craig, even when he's healthy, has lost a step. Jeff Van Note, who played center for the Falcons from 1969 to '86 and now is the color commentator for Falcons' games on WSB in Atlanta, thinks San Francisco's offensive line is not the competent run-blocking unit it once was. But it does give Montana plenty of time to throw, except when the line is outnumbered by blitzers. The Niner coaches mention the lack of the one or two precise blocks—the springing blocks—the team used to get on sweeps.
One intriguing theory you hear is that a change in the 49ers' practice routine has created a problem. Under former coach Bill Walsh, much of the running proficiency came from a rather nasty blocking scheme that featured cut blocks—chop 'em off at the legs, get 'em when they're not looking, that kind of thing. These blocks were practiced during the week, much to the annoyance of the defensive coaches, who didn't want their people used as cannon fodder. Walsh was an offensive coach. Seifert's background is on defense. He has stopped the cutting against the defense in practice, and cut blocks have to be practiced to be effective. At least that is the theory.
But as Montana showed on Sunday, when he gets hot he can overcome just about anything—blocked punts, feeble ground game, you name it. You have to wonder, though, what will happen in bad weather, or if Montana has an off day. The Niners' greatest strength—and the reason they are still the best, or close to it—is that they win despite everything. For New Orleans and Atlanta, playing the 49ers was their Super Bowl. The San Francisco game was a biggie for Houston, too. For the Niners, those games were just four more stops on the schedule.
San Francisco's defense gave up almost 400 yards to the Falcons on Sunday, 365 on the passing of Chris Miller and Scott Campbell, who took over when Miller went down with a sprained right knee in the fourth quarter. The numbers, though, are misleading. This was shoot-out football, and the yards have a way of piling up.
Atlanta's rushing game—14 carries, 29 yards—was even feebler than San Francisco's, and at times the Niner pass rush, led by outside linebacker Charles Haley (whom the Raiders supposedly want for Allen), was formidable. The 49ers exerted pressure even when they rushed only three men toward the end and dropped everyone else back into coverage.
The dynasty remains strong. The schedule eases a bit with Pittsburgh and Cleveland at home, Green Bay and Dallas on the road and then Tampa Bay at home before back-to-back biggies at Candlestick Park—the Rams followed by the Giants on Monday night, Dec. 3. There's a good chance that both San Francisco and New York will be unbeaten when they meet.