Thanks to Meggett's work, 49ers don't hold out Giants


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Forget all those parallels between last night's season-opener and last season's NFC championship game. There is a major difference between the two, and it rests, of all places, on the football field at Towson State.

That's where David Meggett kept himself in shape during his prolonged contract dispute with the New York Giants. He finally reported last Thursday, and was his usual whirling dervish self in the Giants' heartstopping, heartbreaking 16-14 victory over San Francisco.

Someone throw away the script. Just when you thought the Giants couldn't play another game that ended on a dramatic field goal attempt, along came Matt Bahr to hit a 35-yarder with five seconds left. This is getting ridiculous. The "Rocky" movies had more original finales.

Let's see, there was Bahr's 42-yarder that beat the 49ers for the NFC title by almost the same score (15-13). There was Scott Norwood's 47-yarder that sailed wide right to give the Giants their second Super Bowl triumph in five years. And now there is Bahr's latest effort -- same bat time, same bat channel.

Giants cornerback Everson Walls admitted to deja vu, but this time summoned the courage to watch the field goal that ended the 49ers' 18-game road winning streak. "I didn't," linebacker Pepper Johnson said. "I just put my head in my hands."

Where does Meggett fit in all this? As usual, just about everywhere. The former Towson State star accounted for 155 all-purpose yards, the last 8 on the game's most critical play -- a third-and-five pitchout from quarterback Jeff Hostetler from the San Francisco 45 with 1:52 left.

Meggett, 25, barrelled forward with help from a devastating block by wide receiver Mark Ingram on 49ers linebacker Charles Haley. Ingram and guard William Roberts also held out until last Thursday. Lawrence Taylor did the same thing last year. Pretty soon, training camp will be obsolete.

"I don't know," said Meggett, who rushed four times for 26 yards, caught four passes for 47 and returned seven kicks for 82. "Everyone needs training camp. Lawrence ended up with an injury the latter part of last season. Hopefully I can stay healthy."

The Giants no doubt will keep their fingers crossed, for the 5-foot-7, 180-pound Meggett is a unique weapon envied by other teams. New coach Ray Handley knows it, and so does general manager George Young, who negotiated Meggett's two-year, $1.4 million deal.

Handley went to Meggett four times on third down last night. Three times the Giants converted, and twice the drives resulted in scores. The one that didn't ended with a failed 51-yard field goal by Bahr after the 49ers took a 14-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Giants finished 10-for-18 on third downs, the 49ers 3-for-9. Hostetler clearly outplayed Steve Young in the Battle of the Backups, but if Bahr missed that final field goal, you'd be reading about how the Giants' offense fizzled in the second half while the 49ers came from behind without the injured Joe Montana.

Hostetler completed 17 of 31 passes for 228 yards and did not throw an interception. Young went 12-for-22 for 162 yards with one touchdown (73 yards to Jerry Rice) and one interception. Each quarterback also rushed for 45 yards; mobility, remember, is one reason Hostetler replaced Phil Simms.

Strangely enough, the 49ers looked like the team playing for a new coach, but they were in transition even before Montana tore a tendon in his elbow. Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott left for the Raiders as Plan B free agents, Matt Millen joined Washington the same way. Others were forced to retire.

Young, 30, is five years younger than Montana, so this is his chance to accelerate the rebuilding process. It would be foolish to dismiss him on the basis of one game, against one of the NFL's top defenses. The 49ers were penalized three times last night on kick returns for illegal men downfield. They clearly were out of sync.

The Giants, of course, will do that to a team. Taylor, in particular, was at his ferocious best.

Whatever, the Giants began their final drive from their own 22 with 4:40 remaining. Three times they converted on third down. O.J. Anderson (15 carries, 45 yards) brought them to midfield. Meggett moved them closer to Bahr's range. Ingram caught a third-and-10 pass.

Everyone in Giants Stadium knew what was coming next. Including a Monday night victory by San Francisco last December, these two teams have played to a combined 34-34 tie in their last three games. The Giants' scoring summary: One touchdown, nine field goals.

Yes, this is getting ridiculous. Last week Meggett was in Towson, trying to duplicate the Giants' conditioning drills as related by fellow running back Lewis Tillman. Last night he peeled off his uniform and said, "It was no big deal. It wasn't hard at all."

He spoke for himself. Not his team.

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