American Football: 49ers hit 44 to bury the Bears

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The Independent Online
It has long since ceased to be remarkable when the San Francisco 49ers rack up 40 points, but such is their superlative form just now that they have even given up pretending they are shocking themselves. "Last year when we scored 44 points at this stage,we were a little surprised," their quarterback Steve Young said after the 49ers dispatched the Chicago Bears 44-15 in the second round of the play-offs. "This year we know we have a team that's peaking,"

The league's most impressive team can now look forward to hosting the NFC Championship game next Sunday, the fourth time in the last five years they have reached what amounts to a Super Bowl semi-final. The 49ers have lost the last two, but if their richvein continues it is difficult to see them being denied. "We're playing into the post-season, the way we finished the season. We're playing our best ball," Young added.

The Bears looked hopelessly over-matched against the 49ers, though they did take a 3-0 lead when they capitalised on a Brent Jones fumble. From then on the 49ers were rampant, amassing 30 unaswered points - 23 of them in the second quarter -by half-time , effectively ending the encounter as a contest.

Mindful perhaps of the pouring rain, the 49ers eschewed their normal air-dominated offense, and showed they could power play with the best of them. William Floyd bulldozed for a hat-trick of touchdowns, while Young, voted the league's Most Valuable Player last week, displayed the running element in his repetoire, plundering 32 yards, including a TD of his own on a six-yard run.

Young took a late hit from the Bears defensive back Sean Gayle after crossing the goal-line, which prompted an end-zone brawl featuring an in-your-face spike from Young and a shoving match between Gayle and Jerry Rice, the 49ers wide receiver. "Steve Young is the key to our success. We can't let anything happen to him," Rice said.

Earlier the Pittsbugh Steelers had won another lopsided contest to secure the right to host a championship game. The Steelers trounced the Cleveland Browns 29-9, and again the second quarter was the key period. The Steelers scored 21 points in that time,touchdown passes from Neil O'Donnell to Eric Green and Yancey Thigpen and a TD run from John Williams. However it was Williams' backfield partner Barry Foster who really damaged the highly-regarded Cleveland defense, rushing for 133 yards. "Our offensive line gets better every week," Foster said.

Vinny Testaverde, so secure against New England a week ago, was more like his old self: he threw two interceptions.

NFL Play-offs (home teams first). AFC: Pittsburgh 29 Cleveland 9. NFC: San Francisco 44 Chicago 15.