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Pro Football / Week 4

Now Rice Really Has a Reason to Shout

Pro football: After yelling at 49er coach for not getting ball enough in previous game, receiver has eight catches for 162 yards in 31-20 win over Falcons.

September 28, 1998|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — He could never play doubles in tennis, wait for his turn to bat every two or three innings or leave the ice for line shifts. If Jerry Rice played basketball no one else would ever touch the ball.

Jerry Rice is a ball hog, and maybe the greatest player in football history as a result, his heroics demanding that he first get open and then someone get him the football.

Rice, of course, contends he is always open, so he wants to know, why don't they get him the ball on every play? Two weeks ago the 49ers beat the Redskins by 35 points, but Rice threw a sideline tantrum, screaming at Coach Steve Mariucci because he finished with only four catches.

Some people believe in letting a baby cry, others immediately respond. Mariucci promptly crafted a game plan designed to make Rice happy, six of the first 10 plays Rice was on the field against Atlanta Sunday designed to go his way.

Good for Rice, good for Mariucci, good for the 49ers, scoring on their second offensive play--Steve Young 66 yards to Rice--and very bad for the Falcons, 31-20 losers in 3Com Park before 62,296.

Rice caught eight passes to lead all receivers with 162 yards and two touchdowns, running his career total to 28 touchdowns scored against the defenseless Falcons--the most ever scored by one NFL player against one opponent.

"One of those days," Rice said while scolding himself for not adding to his statistics even more. "Still, it leaves a little bad taste in your mouth to have two or three drops. . . ."

Two years ago Rice, distressed because he didn't get the ball more, stormed out of the 49er locker room after catching five passes in a remarkable 10-9 win under Jeff Brohm, playing for an injured Young.

Selfish or motivated, whatever the conclusion, Rice remains a football marvel. Who are the 49ers going to throw the ball to? Terrell Owens? J.J. Stokes? Who needs to practice all week to figure that out, but week after week, the opposition always looks startled as Rice runs open.

"Part of the plan was to get him some catches early," Mariucci said, "but he didn't figure in the progression on the second play."

That's to say that Mariucci might not have mapped out a play for Rice, but Young takes the snaps from center and who do you think he's going to throw to? Owens? Stokes?

"That was a great play by Steve, what we call an alert throw," Mariucci said. "The progression was going to go to Owens and then Stokes, but Steve saw Jerry."

Doesn't Steve always see Jerry? Young has now thrown 78 touchdown passes to Rice--placing the tandem one score behind the NFL's all-time combination--Miami's Dan Marino and Mark Clayton.

"I never think about records," said Rice, although he seems to know them all and precisely where he fits in. "Steve and I have worked so hard and the chemistry is so good so it will be a big achievement. But I'm just going to let it come and not put any pressure on it . . . whenever I don't put pressure on something, it happens."

When's the last time he didn't apply pressure to get his way? After starting in 189 consecutive regular-season games, and then opening last season with a major knee injury, he came back quicker than any athlete in NFL history from such a problem to play again after hammering Mariucci for the opportunity.

Two weeks ago he was ranting and raving on the sideline because he wanted the ball more. Do you think Mariucci was listening?

"It looks that way," admitted Owens. "That's typical Jerry. He's very competitive and wants to go out there and catch the ball."

Self-absorbed or competitive, whatever the opinion, he remains unstoppable, coming off a pair of knee surgeries and confronted with a 36th birthday in two weeks.

"Jerry Rice is getting stronger," said Atlanta Coach Dan Reeves in sounding an alarm throughout the league. "He's going to get better as the year goes along and his leg gets stronger."

The Falcons, 2-1 but losers 13 of the 17 times they have played the 49ers in the '90s, tried corralling the NFL's all-time touchdown scorer (169) with Juran Bolden, who was playing for the Winnipeg Bombers in the Canadian Football League a few years ago, and might be again if asked to keep covering Rice.

Rice came back later to catch a 26-yard touchdown pass, helping the 49ers steamroll the Falcons, 31-7, by halftime.

Young finished 28 for 39 for 387 yards and three touchdowns, and the 49ers gained more than 500 yards for the third consecutive game, the first time in franchise history they've done that..

"There's still room to get better," said Rice, of course, if they get him the ball more.

NFL Week 4

Arizona 20, St. Louis 17

Denver 38, Washington 16

Green Bay 37, Carolina 30

Jacksonville 27, Tennessee 22

Kansas City 24, Philadelphia 21

New Orleans 19, Indianapolis 13 (OT)

Oakland 13, Dallas 12

Pittsburgh 13, Seattle 10

New York Giants 34, San Diego 16

San Francisco 31, Atlanta 20

Minnesota 31, Chicago 28

Baltimore 31, Cincinnati 24

* Coverage C10-13

* Spotlight C10

* Summaries C13

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