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Collins, Panthers Are Manhandled by Real Dynasty

Pro football: San Francisco's 34-21 victory might be enough to silence Carolina's brash quarterback.

September 30, 1997|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After the Carolina Panthers returned from last year's NFC Championship Game loss to Green Bay, quarterback Kerry Collins told the hometown fans: "What you've witnessed is the beginning of a dynasty."

Well, you know Collins, he's always shooting his mouth off and regretting it later.

This summer he directed a racial slur at a teammate and received a black eye, a warmup to Monday night's 34-21 bashing at the hands of San Francisco after his dynasty proclamation had been repeated to the 49ers earlier in the week and posted all over their locker room.

"We had that comment from Collins on our overheard projector the night before the game and Coach [Steve] Mariucci made sure of making a point of it in his pre-game speech," said San Francisco linebacker Gary Plummer. "I think Carolina Coach Dom Capers might have to have somebody in the public relations office follow Collins around to keep him from making any more rookie mistakes and giving the other team bulletin board material.

"This was huge for us; the 49ers have been used to being the NFC West Division champions, and now we're determined to get it back."

The 49ers (4-1), winners of four in a row since being blindsided by Tampa Bay to start the season, avenged two defeats and a second-place NFC West finish to the Panthers a year ago and now have the chance to run off with a 7-1 record after taking on the likes of the Rams, Saints and Falcons the next three weeks.

Instead of dominating, as Collins promised, Carolina (2-3) solidified its reputation as an expansion team, a flash in the pan that had the Panther faithful chanting, "Beuerlein, Beuerlein," in the fourth quarter on their way to a third consecutive loss in Ericsson Stadium before 70,972 after a 9-0 run at home last season.

Collins, who had his mouth wired shut earlier this year after being hit by the opposition and breaking his jaw, left the game physically shaken in the early seconds of the fourth quarter. Although he recovered in time to return one play later, Capers kept him on the sideline as Steve Beuerlein took the Panthers in for their final two touchdowns.

Who knows if we will see Collins after an open date. A year ago, Collins' job description with the defensive-minded Panthers was not to lose the game, but in the past two games he has fumbled twice and has had seven passes intercepted.

"We can't turn the ball over the way that we've turned it over," Capers said, while refusing to blame Collins. "There are other people involved with that other than Kerry. It's just not up to the standard we want to see."

In addition now to giving the Panthers no chance to win, there remain questions about the lingering impact of Collins' earlier remarks directed at wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad and the possibility of a divided locker room.

Ex-Panther fullback Howard Griffith, now with Denver, told Sports Illustrated earlier this season, "I'd be willing to bet that most of his teammates don't [forget it]. It's inexcusable, and I think it's going to haunt Kerry for years to come."

Collins apologized to his teammates, but now he some more explaining to do after inciting the 49ers.

"I can't blame Coach Capers for sticking with Beuerlein," said a dejected Collins, who was booed soundly by Panther fans. "I got booed last week too. The fans pay good money to see the games. If they want to boo me, fine."

While the Panthers try to pick up the pieces, the 49ers leave extolling the exploits of running back Garrison Hearst and their much maligned offensive line.

"This win was a blast," said offensive lineman Kevin Gogan, who left the Raiders to sign with the 49ers as a free agent. "This is why I came here--just for games like this."

The 49ers, while rattling Collins, manhandled his defensive teammates, becoming the first team in Carolina's three-year history to run for more than 200 yards against them, piling up 219 yards, with Hearst posting a career-high 141 on 28 carries, including a three-yard touchdown.

"The Redskins and Chiefs had run pretty well on them," said San Francisco quarterback Steve Young, "and we were making yards, so we just kept expanding what we were doing."

Young put the 49ers on the board on the team's first possession with an eight-yard pass to Terrell Owens, who performed at times like Jerry Rice. Young, an efficient 16-for-24 for 152 yards, then ran two yards for a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Terry Kirby's three-yard run for a touchdown capping off a 15-play drive, which included 14 rushes, pushed San Francisco ahead, 34-14, with a little more than two minutes to play.

"They blitz a lot, which can be hazardous to your quarterback's health, so being able to run the ball helps put a stop to that," said Mariucci, who, while new at the job, understands the value of keeping Young healthy--the only thing seemingly that could sidetrack San Francisco from winning another title in presently the worst division in football.

"This puts us in position to be out front in our division," Mariucci said. "We had something to prove here, and every man in that locker room was determined to do just that."

Yes, the makings of a real dynasty.

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