49ers-Giants game leaves other contenders hope

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In three of the past four seasons, the winner of the regular season game between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers has won the Super Bowl.

Going into Monday night's game between the two teams, it was considered likely that the winner would make it four of five.

Now it's up to the 49ers, after their 7-3 victory in the lowest-scoring game of the year, to show whether they can do it.

Nobody will be surprised if they don't. Neither team scared anybody. If anything, it gave other teams hope that the Super Bowl race could be wide-open.

Steve McMichael, Chicago Bears defensive lineman, said: "We've heard how these teams are better than us. 7-3? We can play in that game."

Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan said: "I watched the Giants and 49ers on TV. If they're up there, we're contenders."

Ryan, of course, always seems to think he's a contender.

But the game did raise question marks about both teams. For the 49ers, it was the second straight game in which their offense was shut down by a defense that neutralized their passing game with a nickel defense and then dared them to run. The 49ers' lack of a running game may catch up with them.

San Francisco should beat Cincinnati today because the Bengals are shaky on defense, but the Los Angeles Rams will be waiting for the 49ers again in two weeks to show if they're really vulnerable.

On the other side, the offensive coaching style of Bill Parcells raised questions about how far the Giants can go.

Parcells was criticized for going for a touchdown on fourth-and-nine with four minutes left, but that was the least of his problems. If he was going for it on fourth down, his first three calls in that sequence -- three passes into the end zone -- were questionable.

If Parcells had decided to use four downs, the percentage decision was to do something underneath with at least one of those downs to get close to the end zone.

Then there was Parcells' decision to accept the last holding call against the 49ers so they could run 45 more seconds off the clock. That meant he didn't get the ball back until there were only 36 seconds left to play. That saved him 27 yards of field position, but he needed those 45 seconds.

Parcells also benched rookie running back Rodney Hampton for not picking up a blitz, so plodding Ottis Anderson had to carry the running load.

Although Parcells usually gets away with his conservative offensive style -- especially against the Washington Redskins -- it cost him this time and could again.

The 49ers' running game, or lack thereof, and Parcells' coaching could leave room for another team to sneak in this season.

L Neither the 49ers nor the Giants looked super Monday night.

Football people are wondering what the 49ers' Ronnie Lott said Giants quarterback Phil Simms at the end of the game.

A cameraman said he heard Lott call Simms a "choker." Both players denied that Lott used the word, but Lott obviously was gloating and Simms was furious.

Simms did go over to the 49ers locker room after the game, supposedly to smooth things over, but the incident will be remembered if the teams meet in the playoffs.

Lott injured his knees in the game and may miss two weeks.

That the game was the second-highest-rated Monday night game of all time and got the best audience ever was a lesson for the National Football League. The fans want better matchups late in the season. It's still hard to believe the Redskins, Giants and Eagles have no games against each other in the last month.

Instead, Washington has back-to-back national TV Saturday games coming up against -- would you believe? -- New England " and Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, two weeks ago the NFL scheduled the Giants-Eagles, Bears-Vikings and 49ers-Rams on a Sunday that NBC had the doubleheader and CBS was allowed to show only one game. The league wasted two of those attractions.

The NFL could do better simply throwing darts at the wall.

It did schedule the Redskins-Bears today, one day after the 50th anniversary of their 73-0 game, but it was strictly by accident.

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Rumors have been flying, even in Canada, that New York businessman Bob Tisch is going to try to buy the New England Patriots, which would take him out of the Baltimore expansion derby.

Tisch, however, said he's "committed to Baltimore," plans to attend the March meetings in Hawaii and hasn't talked to New England owner Victor Kiam in about three months.

So much for that rumor. Herbert J. Belgrad, the chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, found it amusing last week when Fred Edelstein of ESPN reported in his newsletter that "tongues were wagging" in Baltimore last week that Tisch was negotiating to buy the New York Jets.

The reality was that Belgrad met last week in Washington with Tisch, who has assured him he'll be notified if Tisch ever decides to negotiate for another team. Anyway, the Jets aren't for sale, and that rumor was shot down weeks ago.

Edelstein also reported that Baltimore is a "heavy favorite" for an expansion team if Tisch remains as a potential owner. This contradicts Sports Illustrated, which reported a few weeks ago that St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C., were the two favorites.

After going through the failed attempt to get the Cardinals three years ago, Belgrad is ignoring all the speculation and handicapping. He's just working to put together the best possible presentation for Baltimore.

Belgrad said he also thinks Tisch would support Baltimore's bid if he bought another East Coast team before expansion, and notes that Baltimore has several possible owners and isn't promoting any particular one, but is keeping lines of communication open with all of them.

The coaching derby:

Richard Williamson was named interim head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Ray Perkins was fired, but there's no chance he'll keep the job. Owner Hugh Culverhouse wants a big name and has former 49ers coach Bill Walsh at the top of his list. Walsh doesn't want to leave the West Coast, but he could be intrigued because Culverhouse will offer him complete control. Culverhouse doesn't believe in general managers.

Assuming that Walsh turns it down, Ryan will have a lot of leverage with Eagles owner Norman Braman. Ryan's contract is up, and Culverhouse would take him if he can't get Walsh. So Braman will have to not only grit his teeth to keep Ryan, but also give him big bucks. If Ryan makes the playoffs, Braman will have to keep him.

If Parcells didn't have a year left on his contract, he'd be interested because he would like to run the show. He tried to take the Atlanta Falcons job after winning the Super Bowl in 1986, but the Giants wouldn't release him. If he keeps coaching the way he did against the 49ers, his stock may drop.

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