SAN FRANCISCO — With defenses keying on tailback Roger Craig, the San Francisco 49ers have found a secret weapon.
Fullback Tom Rathman caught a pair of touchdown passes from Joe Montana Sunday and helped the 49ers to a 27-20 victory over the Houston Oilers.
In addition to his touchdown catches, the second-year back out of Nebraska rushed for 57 yards in 12 carries and caught 10 passes for 60 yards.
"It gives us great flexibility," 49er Coach Bill Walsh said. "He had an outstanding day."
In 1985, Craig became the first back in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards both receiving and rushing in a season. Since then, the 49ers have been looking for a back to take the pressure off him.
Rathman's touchdowns came on passes of eight and five yards from Montana.
"It was the same play," Rathman said.
With San Francisco leading, 14-6, 49er Tim McKyer picked off a pass by Warren Moon at the San Francisco 27. Two plays later, Montana fired a short pass to Rathman, who was sprung loose by a block from Jerry Rice for a 21-yard gain.
The 49ers moved the ball to the three-yard line where Montana rolled and fired a touchdown pass to Rathman to make it 21-6.
Ray Wersching kicked fourth-quarter field goals of 28 and 38 yards to up San Francisco's lead to 27-13.
Trying to rally the Oilers, Moon managed a 58-yard, 9-play scoring drive to make it 27-20 with 4:57 left. The Oiler quarterback passed 21 yards to Ernest Givens and 27 yards to Hill to move the ball to 49ers' 8-yard line. From there, Moon found Givens in the end zone on fourth down for the score.
Houston got the ball once more, but George Cooper and Charles Haley sacked Moon at his two-yard line to end the threat.
Rathman scored his first touchdown on an eight-yard pass from Montana at the end of a 90-yard drive in the first quarter to give the 49ers a 7-3 lead.
Montana, who has thrown 13 touchdowns passes in his last four games, finished 32 of 46 with 289 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
Montana gave the 49ers a 14-6 halftime lead on a one-yard scoring pass to Rice with three seconds left, and his second scoring pass to Rathman took the Oilers out of their game plan.
"When you get behind, you can't run the ball like you want to," Moon said. "They stop playing the run because you have to pass. Once we got way behind that was it for our running attack."
Forced to the air, Moon completed 6 of 8 passes for 74 yards, including a 48-yard bomb to Drew Hill and a 5-yard scoring pass to Curtis Duncan on the next play to make it 21-13.
Houston's other points came on field goals of 20 and 48 yards by Tony Zendejas.