ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- Deion Sanders was back on Prime Time last night, but his Atlanta Falcons were no more ready for the San Francisco 49ers than they were the last time.
It was 41-3 this time, following a 56-17 pasting in San Francisco three weeks ago. There won't be a next time, not anytime soon on Monday night. Sanders tried, but the 49ers are out of the Falcons' league. The 38-point and 39-point margins were the two biggest routs in the NFL this year.
Next week, when the 49ers play the New Orleans Saints to break their 7-2 first-place tie in the NFC West, the 49ers may have made a decision on Joe Montana's future. The injured quarterback pronounced himself fit and ready following an 80-pass workout in the Georgia Dome Sunday.
Meanwhile, Steve Young does a much better job as a second-stringer than Atlanta's Billy Joe Tolliver did subbing for the injured Chris Miller. In fact, Young is the top-rated passer in the NFL and his 12-for-18 for 143 yards and three touchdowns last night will do nothing to ease himself out of this lineup, regardless of Montana's health.
The 49ers scored 24 points after turnovers and seven on a punt return when the Falcons appeared to give up.
"It was not a pretty sight," Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville said. "We made it occupational suicide."
By the time it was over, Sanders was being booed by the largest crowd in the short Georgia Dome history for downing a kickoff in the end zone.
Atlanta's one-man sports conglomerate arranged his schedule to play his first game for the Falcons since his Oct. 11 baseball-football odyssey.
In the 56-17 game, cornerback Sanders was busy trying to become the MVP in the World Series for the Atlanta Braves.
This time, it was the 49ers defensive backs who stole the show. Don Griffin, Eric Davis and Merton Hanks each had interceptions. Griffin caused a fumble and Hanks returned a punt 48 yards for a score.
The Falcons and their cocky coach have a way of getting under the skin. Getting on the scoreboard is another matter, especially without the injured quarterback Miller.
"Here's a team that just lost its starting quarterback and that's going to hurt them," San Francisco coach George Seifert said. "The run-and-shoot requires precision."
Young passed 12 yards to Odessa Turner for a touchdown after a fumble by Keith Jones.
Ricky Watters scored on a 21-yard run-pass and outgained the entire Falcons cast.
Mike Cofer kicked field goals following a punt and a fumble by Andre Rison.
Tom Rathman scored on a 2-yard run following a fumble by Sanders.
Jerry Rice scored on a 19-yard pass from Young following an interception by Hanks.
Then Hanks ran back the punt.
Sanders and crowd noise were supposed to make the first Monday night game for the Falcons in eight years worth watching in the new Dome.
Instead, you could hear Young barking signals and the sound of the ball dropping from slippery Falcons hands, including those of Sanders, whose dropped kickoff led to a third-quarter 49ers touchdown.
You could also hear the sound of Watters running. He had 75 yards and has become the new Roger Craig, providing a sorely needed ground game. The wide-eyed Watters was happy to report he received a compliment from Sanders.
"He said I was a heck of a runner and to keep it up," Watters said. "I respect him a lot as an athlete. All his speed and coming up on me so fast, I felt like I was in a cartoon."
Funny he should say that. The Falcons are fast becoming a comic strip after making the playoffs last season and keeping the 49ers out.