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THE NFL / 1996

49ers Crash Party at the Steeler Home

Interconference: Early surge holds up as San Francisco breaks Pittsburgh's streak at Three Rivers, 25-15.

December 16, 1996|From Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Even if they aren't home for the playoffs, the San Francisco 49ers have no intention of going away soon.

The 49ers blitzed Pittsburgh with 16 points in barely five minutes in a stadium where a visiting team hadn't won in 13 games, dominating the Steelers, 25-15, on Sunday in a one-sided matchup of Super Bowl hopefuls.

"It's hard to win here," said Jerry Rice, who had the go-ahead touchdown catch with only 3:31 gone. "I don't think anybody expected us to come in here and win this game."

Steve Young threw three first-half touchdown passes--the first touchdowns against Pittsburgh's defense at home in 13 quarters--as the 49ers (11-4) turned a fumbled punt, a safety and a 43-yard pass interference penalty against Pro Bowl cornerback Rod Woodson into a rapid-fire 16-0 lead.

"We came out like a machine," linebacker Ken Norton Jr. said. "We got the safety, the fumble, the big penalty--things were bouncing our way today and we took it as far as we could."

Especially with Steeler quarterback Mike Tomczak (23 of 43, two interceptions) having yet another error-filled game. The Steelers (10-5) could have gained the lead for the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoffs by winning, but the New England Patriots (10-5), despite losing at Dallas, can secure it by defeating the New York Giants next week.

"It was just like us against Dallas in the Super Bowl--we can't get behind like that to a good team, not with the defense they have," Woodson said.

The 49ers apparently learned from their own missed opportunity. They all but ceded the NFC West by losing, 30-24, to Carolina last week, only to respond with what Young called their best game this season.

They'll need more like it if they're forced onto the road for the playoffs. The 49ers can win their division only if they defeat the Lions on Dec. 23 and the Steelers win at Carolina (11-4) on Sunday.

"But if we keep playing the way we're capable of playing, we're going to be that team that nobody wants to play," Norton said.

Bryant Young--the 49ers' other Pro Bowl Young--was as dominant on his side of the ball as Steve Young was on offense, sacking Tomczak for a safety and constantly pressuring him into hurried or off-target throws.

"Unfortunately, that's what you get with me, the good with the bad," said Tomczak, who has 11 interceptions in six games.

The Steelers--7-0 at home this season and unbeaten there since an October 1995 loss to Cincinnati--didn't score until Jerome Bettis' one-yard run with 3:26 left in the third quarter made it 22-8.

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