NEW ORLEANS -- Steve Young is coming up on his 34th birthday and beginning what could be a five-month grind to another Super Bowl, but he's not going to slow down in his old age.
The San Francisco 49ers' first snap of the 1995 season was a bootleg around the left side for 11 yards by Young. It was the kind of hold-your-breath play that has been a trademark during his four-year reign as the NFL's premier quarterback.
Young's reckless style knocked him out of the game in the second quarter with a sprained neck and began a series of events that revived the New Orleans Saints. But he returned yesterday and helped the defending Super Bowl champions to a 24-22 season-opening victory at the Louisiana Superdome.
"His [Young's] slide technique needs some serious work, it's pitiful," said Bart Oates, the 49ers' center. "He's out there cutting the corner like a running back. It's stupid, but it works. That's Steve Young. Without those kinds of gambles, it wouldn't be him."
Young is the only NFL quarterback with 50 consecutive starts, but it took all of 25 minutes for the issue of his health to be raised this year. The 49ers' had a 14-0 lead and were on the move with 5:19 to play in the second quarter, when Saints' end Renaldo Turnbull flushed Young out of the pocket for a 5-yard loss.
Young injured his neck on the play. He wobbled off, and on third-and-19, Elvis Grbac's pass to tight end Brent Jones was badly underthrown. Strong safety Sean Lumpkin picked it off at the 49ers' 47-yard line and made a nifty run down the left side for a touchdown.
After the kickoff, Young headed for the offensive huddle, but had second thoughts and had another talk with coach George Seifert.
"We had the same problems with Steve running the ball last year," Seifert said. "We can't let him take those hits. He'll self-destruct before this is over."
Said Young: "I haven't been hit that hard since [Chicago's] Richard Dent got me in the playoffs last year."
was able to return for the second half and completed 21 of 27 attempts for 260 yards overall, but the San Francisco offense was not without its problems in Marc Trestman's debut as offensive coordinator.
There was the touchdown scored by the Saints' defense. With All-Pro tackle Harris Barton out with an injury, Young was sacked five times by a basic four-man rush, and the 49ers lost two fumbles in the fourth quarter, both involving second-year fullback William Floyd.
If there was a difference between the two teams, it was the 49ers' ability to run in the post-Ricky Watters era. The 49ers' defense had an interception return for touchdown of its own, a 52-yarder by strong safety Tim McDonald.
The Saints' early difficulties included blown coverage on Jerry Rice's 50-yard touchdown reception and a bad center snap that kept former Redskins kicker Chip Lohmiller from attempting the extra point after Lumpkin's touchdown return.
That missed point meant plenty, as the Saints were still a conversion short after Jim Everett and Mike Haynes picked on cornerback Marquez Pope en route to a pair of second-half touchdowns. They connected on a 29-yard scoring pass with 5:43 to go.
Working halfback Derek Loville, San Francisco chewed up 32 yards and close to four minutes before the 49ers punted.
Two Everett completions for 25 yards got the Saints out to their 40. Lohmiller ended the first half with a 51-yard field goal, and they needed another 20 yards to get him a game-winning opportunity from the same range. New Orleans never came close. Everett missed on his next three attempts, and 49ers' defensive coordinator Pete Carroll followed with a gem of a call.
San Francisco, 59 minutes without a sack, sent defensive back Tyrone Drakeford on a blitz from the left side. He knocked the ball loose from Everett, recovered the fumble on the 26 and lost control three yards from a touchdown, but that was enough to seal the outcome.
NFL WEEK 1
Cincinnati 24, Indianapolis 21
New England 17, Cleveland 14
Houston 10, Jacksonville 3
Atlanta 23, Carolina 20
San Francisco 24, New Orleans 22
Tampa Bay 21, Philadelphia 6
St. Louis 17, Green Bay 14
Pittsburgh 23, Detroit 20
Miami 52, New York 14
Oakland 17, San Diego 7
Kansas City 34, Seattle 10
Washington 27, Arizona 7
Chicago 31, Minnesota 14
Buffalo at Denver (night)
* The Eagles heard it from their fans after getting routed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 21-6, Page 11C
* Standings, summaries, 10C-11C