SAN FRANCISCO -- It's Joe Montana time again.
Montana guided the 49ers on long touchdown drives the second, third and fourth times they had the ball, and that was enough to beat the Washington Redskins, 28-10, in a divisional playoff game.
Montana, who completed 22 of 31 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns, has played only one half in the last month, but he was razor sharp in the first half.
The 49ers will be the host to the winner of today's game between the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears in the National Football Conference title game at Candlestick Park next Sunday for a berth in the silver anniversary Super Bowl Jan. 27 in Tampa, Fla.
The 49ers are within two games of becoming the first team to win three straight Super Bowls and five overall.
All the Redskins could do after the game was salute Montana.
"I thought he was great. You have to give credit to the other guy TTC sometimes. Today my hat goes off to Joe Montana. The way I see it, he's the best I've ever seen I've been looking at him a long time," said Richie Petitbon, the assistant head coach in charge of the defense.
Petitbon threw his best schemes at Montana. He tried a nickel defense. He tried zone defenses. He gave him all kinds of looks and Montana solved them all.
"I'm really proud of the way we played. I know that might soun silly when you get beat," Petitbon said.
Coach Joe Gibbs also said he was "proud of our football team" as the Redskins finished the season 11-7.
It's a tribute to the 49ers that they win win by 18 points and the other team is still proud of its effort.
"I don't think the score was any indication of how the game was played. We have nothing to be ashamed about other than the score. You look at 28-10 and it looks like they pretty much handled us, but all of you that watched the game know that it's a different story. We had our chances. We had our shots. We just didn't make the plays we had to," said quarterback Mark Rypien.
Montana made those plays. He's been making them for a decade.
Even when the Redskins had Montana guessing, he beat them.
"I think that zone confused him, but Montana was able to move around and make plays. It was good news and bad news. [The zone] confused him was the good news. The bad news is he got the ball off and beat us," Petitbon said.
He beat the zone defense on both touchdown passes, a 10-yarder to Jerry Rice and an 8-yarder to Mike Sherrard.
There were times during the year when the 49ers were not dazzling as they compiled a 14-2 record, but they're a different team in the playoffs.
"It was difficult season for us," Montana said. "People say we didn't win convincingly this year, but every teams gets up for you and battles you [because] it makes their season if they beat you," he said.
On the bid for the threepeat, Montana said, "It's in the back of our minds, but you can't worry about it. If we just play football the way we're capable, it'll take care of itself."
Even the officials seemed dazzled by the 49ers.
They made three calls in the 49ers' favor that the Redskins described as "ridiculous" and "terrible."
The most critical came when Eric Davis seemed to hit Gary Clark in the back of the end zone on fourth down with the 49ers leading, 21-10, with 9:06 left.
If the officials had called interference, the Redskins would have had a first down on the San Francisco 1.
"It's a new game. There's no question it's a new game," Petitbon said, if the official made the call.
The champions, though, tend to get the calls, especially when they're at home. It's part of their mystique.
"That's why you play so hard for the home field. I thought it was terrible. That's one of those things you can't really worry about it. It's over. I hate to make any comments on the officiating, Petitbon said.
The other two calls came during 49ers touchdown drives.
Darrell Green, a 5-foot-8, 170-pounder, was called for roughing Rice, who is 6-2 and weighs 200, when he slammed him to the ground while tackling him in the first quarter.
Green said he had no idea the penalty was against him until he went to the sidelines.
The other call was that Alvin Walton pushed Brent Jones out of bounds as Jones caught a 28-yard pass from Harry Sydney. Walton and Jones had gone up for for the ball and the Redskins felt Jones' momentum carried him out of bounds.
"I thought some things were called wrong, but I don't want to come out of here crying about it," Gibbs said.
Petitbon said: "It really was tough. We didn't get any of the jump balls. We didn't get any of the instant replays. It was just tough. We didn't get a break any way you look at it."
The Redskins' other problem was the play of Rypien at quarterback. If he had had a better day, they might have been in the game until the end.
The Redskins had scoring opportunities three times in the second half, with first downs at the San Francisco 7, 15 and 19.
They didn't get any points out of those opportunities because two of Rypien's passes into the end zone were intercepted and then came the non-call on Davis against Clark.
Johnny Jackson made the first interception when he picked off a pass in the left corner of the end zone intended for Art Monk.
On the second, Rypien's arm was hit and the ball fluttered into the arms of Darryl Pollard, who was all alone in the end zone.
Three of Rypien's passes were batted down and the third went into arms of lumbering lineman Michael Carter, who went 61 yards for a touchdown.
"I feel as bad as all the guys on the team," said Rypien, who played after taking painkillers to deaden the pain in his ailing ankle.
"You've got to be precise when you get in there [inside the 20]," he said. That's where execution comes in, but unfortunately I didn't get it accomplished."
Montana did. He always seems to.