Playing Dallas has particular significance for Cunningham, who moved past Tarkenton this season to become the NFL's all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks. After Cunningham had a dreadful first-half performance in a 20-10 loss Nov. 1 at Dallas, Kotite replaced him with Jim McMahon. Cunningham stayed on the bench for one more game before being reinstated as a starter, then began playing well three weeks later, in the second half against San Francisco. Since then, he has thrown six touchdown passes and two interceptions and completed 62 percent of his attempts. It is no coincidence that Philadelphia's late-season surge developed when Cunningham's play improved.
Young's season has been much more consistent and much more rewarding. Yet, playing for a team accustomed to winning Super Bowls and having great play at quarterback, he really hasn't proved much yet. Washington provides the next major test. The Redskins have a veteran defense directed by one of the league's finest coordinators, Richie Petitbon. The Redskins have had success containing Cunningham and his scrambling. That is the kind of experience they will use to push Young.
"When you pick the 49ers to be the best team and win the Super Bowl, you have to look at Young," Accorsi says. "He's been the difference. When he first came into the league, no one thought he could develop into a passer. But he has proved that to be wrong. Yet you've got to like how he runs. He's like a halfback, the way he tucks the ball under his arm and goes after it. He has an impressive toughness."
Joe Montana has shown that the 49er passing system doesn't need a halfback-quarterback to make it work, particularly in the playoffs. It makes more sense to get the ball to Jerry Rice. Young has embraced that notion more and more as the season progressed. It will be a sign of his maturity if he continues to embrace that approach against Washington.
"All I know is that defensive teams hate to play guys like Cunningham," Redskins defensive tackle Tim Johnson says about scramblers. "He wears you out because you can never relax against him. He's always running around."
But should he be throwing instead?
Here's a look at this weekend's matchups:
WASHINGTON AT SAN FRANCISCO
Talking about running, guess what Washington coach Joe Gibbs rediscovered in the Redskins' 24-7 first-round victory over the Minnesota Vikings? Washington's sometimes-dormant rushing attack was revitalized by an unlikely source, kick returner turned halfback Brian Mitchell.
Gibbs' commitment to a ground game last season was a major reason Washington eventually won Super Bowl XXVI. Rypien needs solid support from his runners to take pressure off his passing. But the Redskins' offensive-line woes this season not only unnerved Rypien, but they undermined the rushing attack. Washington plays its best when Gibbs sticks with the run.
Maybe with Mitchell's emergence, Gibbs will make a strong commitment to the run against the 49ers. Mitchell represents one of two poor personnel decisions by Gibbs this season. He should have made greater use of Mitchell earlier in the season, especially when Ricky Ervins was struggling. And he should have found some playing time for rookie wide receiver Desmond Howard when the Posse floundered.
Howard is out with a separated shoulder, but Gibbs at least can continue to use Mitchell, who gained 109 rushing yards and accounted for 209 all-purpose yards in the romp over the Vikings. With Washington running so well against Minnesota (196 yards), Rypien suddenly began passing like Rypien of last season. "We're back," offensive tackle Joe Jacoby says. Just that quickly, the Redskins began sounding more confident than the team that had backed into the playoffs a week before.
Expect the 49ers to attack the middle of Washington's defense, which could be bolstered by the return of tackle Eric Williams, its best run defender. The Redskins are extremely vulnerable to inside power rushes, and one of San Francisco's major improvements this season has been in its running scheme with halfbacks Ricky Watters and Amp Lee. Washington also could benefit from the return of cornerback Darrell Green, who missed the first-round game with a sore heel.
"Nobody expects Washington to go all the way, so there is no pressure on them," 49ers receiver Jerry Rice says. "That's the kind of team you have to worry about."
PHILADELPHIA AT DALLAS
Like Washington, Philadelphia's first-round playoff success can be attributed, in large part, to an effective running game. The Eagles, who have been an offensive mystery all season, overwhelmed the New Orleans Saints, in part, because of 136 rushing yards, including 88 in the second half and 105 overall by Heath Sherman, who has replaced Herschel Walker as Philadelphia's No. 1 running threat.