MIAMI -- This was Steve Young at his best. The quick dropback. The fast reads. The instant delivery. Historians will look back and be impressed with Young's statistics, but it was his decisions and savvy that ultimately separated the San Francisco 49ers from the San Diego Chargers.
Young completed 24 of 36 passes for 325 yards and six touchdowns last night as the 49ers routed the Chargers, 49-26, in Super Bowl XXIX at Joe Robbie Stadium.
San Francisco had superior talent. Young. Receivers Jerry Rice, John Taylor and tight end Brent Jones. Running backs Ricky Watters and William Floyd. But Young is the player who made this offense click early and took the Chargers out of the game.
"Steve Young is the one who gets the ball first," said San Diego defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger. "You stop him, the others are a nonfactor."
Young started early with a perfectly thrown pass on a post pattern to Rice that resulted in a 44-yard touchdown on the 49ers' third offensive play of the game.
The 49ers were on the move again on their next possession when Young made a play few quarterbacks can make. On third-and-three at the 49ers' 28, Young dropped back. All his receivers were covered. Young ran through a lane in the pocket and around the right corner for a 21-yard gain.
On the next play, Young threw for another touchdown on a post pattern, this time for 51 yards to Watters.
It was just the beginning.
On second-and-11 at the San Diego 31 on the last play of the first quarter, Young faded back. Two Chargers leaped and tried to block his pass to Rice on a slant-in. Young pumped once and then turned nothing into a 16-yard run for a first down.
Five plays later, Young showed that it's a thinking man's game. On first-and-goal at the 5, Young looked to Watters in the left flat. It was all a decoy, long enough to hold the linebackers. He then drilled a quick pass to fullback Floyd over the middle for a touchdown.
Nothing big, you say?
If Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O'Donnell had made the same fake on the fourth-down pass over the middle to running back Barry Foster in the final minutes of the AFC championship game, the Steelers would have been playing the 49ers last night.
Instead, O'Donnell was home. And Young kept making the plays.
Another big one came on the 49ers' final touchdown of the first half. On third-and-three from the Chargers' 8, the Chargers blitzed linebacker Doug Miller. Young read it perfectly and threw quickly to Watters in the left flat for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead with 4:44 left in the half.
That was basically all the 49ers needed.
The Chargers are a run-oriented team. They went into last night's game wanting to use two tight ends to establish running back Natrone Means.
But Means is a power runner and not a game breaker. Once San Francisco got the big lead, Means was no longer a factor, and San Diego quarterback Stan Humphries doesn't have the kind of arm that can carry a team. The 49ers made it even more difficult for him by using six defensive backs in third-down situations.
But give San Diego some credit. If wide receiver Mark Seay had hung onto a pass in the end zone with about two minutes left in the second quarter (Chargers dropped a couple of passes early), it could have been 28-14 at the half instead of 28-10.
Yet the decision to go for a field goal instead of a touchdown or first down was questionable with San Francisco almost scoring at will.
The Chargers, however, left themselves open for a lot of second- guessing, especially on defense. On the first touchdown to Rice, how can any team let the best receiver in history split the seam without bumping him at the line of scrimmage?
Why did the Chargers stay in their base defense when it was obvious the 49ers had no intention of running the ball, instead of using the pass to set up the run?
The 49ers have plenty of options, and they used all of them. They came out in a one-back set, spreading the field and using every bit of it for their attack.
And the way the 49ers used Rice was brilliant. Rice was in the slot. Rice was split wide. Rice was in motion. Rice was in the end zone three times.
The middle of the Chargers defense was open all night, just as it was against the Steelers. One would figure San Diego would have fixed the situation in two weeks, but Arnsparger has always played it soft in the middle, even when he put together the No-Name and the Killer B's defenses with the Miami Dolphins.
Where was Chargers linebacker Junior Seau? No factor. Seau is a run stopper. A couple of times, he had to cover Rice. It was embarrassing. Six defensive backs might have been a better remedy.
Instead, it was no contest.
Neither was the game.
It all started with Steve Young.