PITTSBURGH — The plan Sunday for Joe Montana, the San Francisco 49ers' quarterback, was to pick on Pittsburgh's rebuilt secondary, particularly rookie cornerback Delton Hall. It turned out the other way around.
Hall, playing in his first NFL game, put Pittsburgh in the lead with a 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown, and his interception set up one of Gary Anderson's three field goals of 41 yards or more as the Steelers, winless in four exhibition games, upset the 49ers, 30-17.
Pittsburgh, using the same defensive scheme employed while handing the 49ers their only 1984 defeat, shut down San Francisco's usually effective running game and forced four turnovers, three of which resulted in Steeler points.
"We knew Montana wanted to move the ball up and down the field so we wanted to get to him before he could," said Pittsburgh linebacker Mike Merriweather, who had an interception and a fumble recovery. "We just wanted to get off to a fresh start, forget about the preseason and forget about last year.
"The most important thing we wanted to do was keep them from making big plays. We went out and did that."
Said Anderson, who kicked field goals of 50, 41 and 44 yards: "Defense set the tone for this. On the sidelines, you heard the kind of hitting you didn't hear in the preseason."
The Steelers, 6-10 a year ago, overcame a 9-of-33 passing performance by quarterback Mark Malone to present Coach Chuck Noll with his 171st career coaching victory and fifth in six games against the 49ers. This one moved Noll past Paul Brown into fifth place for all-time NFL coaching wins.
Malone passed for only 99 yards, but Earnest Jackson ran for 103 yards in 25 carries as the Steelers kept the ball on the ground to wind down the clock after moving into a two-touchdown lead. "Pittsburgh had an excellent game plan and they played a great game," San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh said. "As far as the 49ers are concerned, there's a lot of work to be done."
Montana completed 34 of 49 passes for 316 yards, including touchdowns of 1 yard to John Frank and 3 yards to Jerry Rice.
The 49ers were outgained on the ground, 183-47.
The 49ers were stopped on four straight third-down conversion tries and held to 23 yards rushing in the first half. The Steeler defense weakened in the second half, allowing the 49ers to finish with 356 yards of total offense.
Said Hall: "I thought they'd challenge me deep a lot, but they didn't really do that too much. I knew if I kept from giving up any big plays, I'd have a pretty decent game."
He turned out to be right.