SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers took the ball out of Rodney Hampton's hands yesterday and put Ricky Watters' name in the postseason record books while pummeling the New York Giants, 44-3, in an NFC divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park.
Watters, who made a sprint around the stadium before the game slapping fans' hands, ran for five touchdowns and topped the previous NFL playoff best of three touchdowns in a game set by 19 others.
"Any time you slow down guys like Jerry Rice and John Taylor, you think you'll do OK," said Giants cornerback Mark Collins. "I never thought Ricky Watters would score five touchdowns. I was thinking, 'Gee, when is it going to stop?' "
Watters ran 24 times for 118 yards and set a postseason record for most rushing touchdowns and most points scored in a game.
"I was pumped up," said Watters. "It was such a great challenge going against LT [linebacker Lawrence Taylor], that great defensive line they have and the way those linebackers come up so hard. I still can't believe we did so well.
"I mean, LT came up to me and patted me on the back. He said, 'You're running your butt off; keep it up.' Whew, that's a lot coming from him. He's still the greatest linebacker to play the game, a legend, and that has to make you feel good."
While Taylor said he has played his last game, the 49ers move on to play the winner of today's game between Dallas and Green Bay. If the Packers win, the 49ers will return to Candlestick Park. If the Cowboys win, the 49ers will travel to Dallas for a replay of last year's title game, which they lost, 30-20.
"This is just one step," Watters said, while pushing aside talk of his record performance. "I just want to stay focused. This doesn't mean anything unless we win next week."
Watters had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs sandwiched around Mike Cofer's 29-yard field goal to give the 49ers a 16-0 lead two seconds into the second quarter. He continued the first-half assault with a 2-yard touchdown run to extend the 49ers' lead to 23-0 with 4:03 remaining in the second quarter.
"After they started scoring they knocked us right out of our game plan," said Hampton, who ran a season-low seven times for 12 yards. "The game plan was to keep the ball away from the 49ers, but we got behind and we had to throw to try and score."
San Francisco coach George Seifert challenged his offense this past week to light up the scoreboard and to do so quickly.
"We ran four offensive plays and we were down 16 points," said Giant center Bart Oates. "Not only did we not respond to that, but we didn't get a first down. If the 49ers play like this next week -- I don't care who they play -- then I wouldn't be surprised to see them in Atlanta [for Super Bowl XXVIII]."
The 49ers took a 23-3 lead into the third quarter and then handed the ball to Watters for touchdown runs of 6 and 2 yards. A sixth opportunity to score eluded Watters after he was pulled from the game early in the fourth quarter with the ball at the Giants' 11-yard line.
"We realized we had another game coming up," said Seifert. "The most important thing was having the player healthy for the next game."
Running back Marc Logan scored three plays later on a 2-yard run to hand the Giants their worst playoff loss.
"There was no question who was the best team out there today," said Giants coach Dan Reeves, who lost to the 49ers, 55-10, in Super Bowl XXIV while coaching the Broncos. "I'm disappointed that we came in and played this way. It hurts; it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
"The 49ers took us out of our element very quickly. They struck quickly and repeatedly, and took the running game away from us."
The Giants had advanced this far by bludgeoning their $l opponents with the league's No. 1 running attack and a stubborn defense. In their previous nine games the Giants had limited opponents to 17 points or less.
But the 49ers' offense, which entered the game ranked No. 1, attacked the Giants without resistance. Quarterback Steve Young moved the 49ers 80 yards in eight plays to open the game with Watters running off right guard for the score.
Cofer missed the extra-point attempt, but the 49ers would show no further mercy. After forcing the Giants to punt, they moved into position for Cofer's 29-yard field goal, and with 4:53 remaining in the first quarter it was already 9-0 in favor of San Francisco.
"From the outset they just overpowered us," said Giant quarterback Phil Simms, who completed 12 of 25 passes for 124 yards with two interceptions. "It was a disaster on both sides of the ball."