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In the End, Rams Dealt One Bad Hand : Pro football: Deion Sanders slaps ball away from Flipper Anderson in end zone to save 49ers' 31-27 victory.

November 21, 1994|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — The right hand of Deion Sanders reached out and slapped aside the Rams' mighty grasp for a season-highlight victory, and so it goes for a team unable to close on success.

Sanders' game-saving play, after being beat by wide receiver Flipper Anderson in the end zone, allowed the 49ers (9-2) to win, 31-27, before 62,774 in Candlestick Park.

The Rams (4-7) not only lost their ninth-consecutive game to the 49ers, but absorbed their fifth defeat in the past two months by seven or fewer points.

"We keep saying we're so close, but we can't win the games," said Anthony Newman, Ram safety. "Being close doesn't mean anything; when people look at our record, they will only look at wins and losses."

The Rams fought back from a 21-6 halftime deficit to take a 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter, but the 49ers rallied with Jerry Rice, the NFL's all-time touchdown scorer.

On second and eight from the Rams' 18-yard line, Rice broke inside on cornerback Todd Lyght, caught a short pass from Steve Young, eluded the reach of linebacker Roman Phifer and scored the 136th touchdown to retake the lead with 1:56 left.

"I messed it up," Newman said. "They had called a lot of slants to the outside, and that's what I guessed, but then they went inside. I'm in the middle, but I went for John Taylor. They changed up on us."

Rice, who caught a club-record 16 passes--third best in NFL history--for 165 yards including three for touchdowns, had fumbled on the previous series and had given the Rams an opportunity to gain an upset if they could run the final 6:07 off the clock.

An ineffective running game forced the Rams to pass to control the ball, but after gaining two yards on three plays, they punted and turned the ball to the NFL's No. 1 scoring unit.

"I was upset with myself for fumbling and very fortunate to have another opportunity," said Rice, who had 27 catches for 312 yards and four scores in two games against the Rams this season, while catching 46 passes for 717 yards and six scores in the team's other nine games. "Everything was on the line."

The Rams called for a three-deep zone on the second-down play from their 18, but after Rice made the short reception, he avoided Lyght's tackling attempt and found no further interference before crossing the goal line.

"'The play should have gone for five yards at the most," Lyght said. "A three-deep zone is supposed to stop that; that's the way you draw it up on the board."

The Rams still had time to rally, and after taking possession at their 35, they moved quickly to the 49ers' 38 with a little less than a minute to play.

"(Quarterback Chris) Miller was getting hot and that started to scare me," said Coach George Seifert of the 49ers.

Miller, who threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Anderson and a 22-yard scoring pass to Jessie Hester in the second half, failed to make connections with Hester on first down. On second down, however, he spotted Anderson breaking free from Sanders and safety Dana Hall.

"Another six inches and it's a touchdown," Anderson said. "There's nothing I could have done differently on the play--we just came up a little short."

Anderson, who worked out for the team's medical staff nearly three hours before the game to test an injured thigh, said he would not have played had it not been for an inspiring speech delivered by wide receiver coach Steve Moore. Despite being hurt, Anderson beat Sanders one-one-one for his 50-yard touchdown, and had him beat once again for the game-winning try.

"That's Deion's M.O.," said Chick Harris, Ram offensive coordinator. "He has a great ability to recover."

Said Sanders, "That ball was right on the money. There was no time to think, just react."

A poor pass on third down coincided with a holding call on tackle Clarence Jones. The 49ers elected to take the penalty, push the Rams back to the 48-yard line and give them another third-down try rather than one last fling on fourth down from the 38.

A short pass to Hester was high, and broken up by 49ers' safety Merton Hanks, the hero in last week's 21-14 victory over Dallas. On fourth and 20, Miller rolled right and dumped a short pass to a wide open David Lang, who dropped the ball.

"I took my focus off the ball because I was looking to run," Lang said. "The thing about it is we'll never know if I could have gotten the first down."

The Rams fell behind, 14-3, after the first quarter with Young throwing to John Taylor for a seven-yard touchdown and Rice for another seven-yard score. Rice's six-yard touchdown reception with 38 seconds left in the half set the stage for the Rams' third-quarter rally.

Wide receiver Todd Kinchen, running the ball from scrimmage for the first time in the NFL, went 44 yards on the end around for a touchdown to open the second-half scoring.

A 28-yard field goal by Doug Brien kept the 49ers ahead, 24-12, but then Miller went on the attack, throwing to Anderson and Hester for scores, and setting up heroics by Rice and Sanders.

"They make the big plays when they have to," said Miller, who returned after injuring his knee on the first Ram offensive play of the game to complete 16 of 33 passes for 228 yards. "Deion made a game-saving play at the end, and we came out on the short end again. We're just so close to being a good team."

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