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Bengals, Woods Shuffle Out of the Big Dance

January 23, 1989|JOE KAY | Associated Press

MIAMI — Ickey Woods didn't shuffle and Boomer Esiason went bust, but the Cincinnati Bengals still thought they had Super Bowl rings on their fingers with 3 minutes left on Sunday.

But San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Jerry Rice--who thrive on big moments--gave the Bengals a lesson in greatness under pressure.

Montana led the 49ers on a 92-yard touchdown drive, hitting John Taylor with the winning score with just 34 seconds remaining for a 20-16 victory over the Bengals.

Just minutes before, Jim Breech's third field goal of the game left Boomer Esiason and the sputtering Bengals offense, best in the AFC during the season, feeling good about its chances.

"After Jim kicked that last field goal, I figured with the way our defense had been playing, it was going to be a sweet ride home," Esiason said.

However, Montana gave the Bengals' offense a lesson in true grit, leading the 49ers to victory. As Esiason watched from the sideline, he thought back to John Elway's 98-yard touchdown drive 2 years ago that helped Denver beat Cleveland in the AFC championship and gain a Super Bowl berth.

"You might as well forget the great Denver drive that got them into the Super Bowl," Esiason said. "Now, it's the great San Francisco drive that won the Super Bowl. That indicates how great Joe Montana is."

The game was billed as a matchup of two explosive offenses, with Cincinnati having an advantage because of its bruising running game, which led the NFL with a 169-yard average in the regular season. But San Francisco shut down the running attack, holding rookie Ickey Woods to 79 yards and no touchdown shuffles.

The 49ers also limited Esiason, top-rated passer in the NFL, to 11 of 25 passing for 144 yards with one interception.

"I felt really good throwing the ball. Sometimes things don't go right. What can you do?" a befuddled Esiason said.

The Bengals' offense roared only once in the game, marching to a field goal and their first lead of the game after taking the second-half kickoff. But the Bengals never put another solid drive together again, having to settle for Stanford Jennings' 93-yard kickoff return for their only touchdown.

"The first drive of the second half, that was the Cincinnati Bengals' offense," Esiason said. "Unfortunately, we were only able to do that once or twice."

Bengals coach Sam Wyche said Esiason did a good job running the offense, but the Bengals merely were outplayed.

"I don't know how to describe his performance to you," Wyche said. "The numbers may not be what Boomer can do statistically."

The Bengals' offensive failures finally came back to haunt them as San Francisco cashed in on its final opportunity for the winning touchdown.

"This was a classic game for the Super Bowl, and a classic game for a player like Joe (Montana), whose career has revolved around those kinds of finishes," Wyche said.

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