American Football: Cunningham salvages a record from the wreckage

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The Independent Online
WITHIN an hour's drive of the White House, Randall Cunningham was showing the sort of grace under pressure that the President could do with. Left exposed by his minders, the Philadelphia playmaker suffered a mauling at the hands of Washington's heavyweights but still hauled a personal record from the wreckage of a 16-12 defeat, scrambling 39 yards to become the top NFL rushing quarterback of all time.

In breaking Fran Tarkenton's mark, Cunningham, who threw for one touchdown late on, took his total to 3,683 yards of gains on the ground; he also spent a fair amount of time on the deck, as the Redskins' defense, superbly marshalled by Wilber Marshall, sacked him five times. The Super Bowl champions' offense was less dynamic, recording only one touchdown - Mark Rypien's 10-yard pass to Gary Clark - and three Chip Lohmiller field goals.

Washington's win brings them level with Philadelphia (on 4-2) in the tough NFC East. Dallas took charge of the division with a 17-10 success over Kansas City. The crucial play came from Ray Horton who intercepted a Dave Krieg pass on the Cowboys' eight-yard line with only three minutes left.

Cunningham was not the only one setting new marks. Over in San Francisco, the 49ers recorded their highest points total by thumping Atlanta 56-17, one more than their previous best against Denver in the 1990 Super Bowl.

Jerry Rice, who made three successful trips into the Broncos end zone then, clocked up another trio against the Falcons to become only the eighth person to join the 100 club. The inestimable wide receiver is now 24 touchdowns shy of Jim Brown's 126.

The 49ers were all powerful, the Falcons all powderpuff. From their first nine drives, San Francisco scored eight touchdowns. Steve Young threw for 399 yards while Rice ran for TD passes of 80, 40 and 26 yards. 'It was almost like being chased by the police,' Rice said of his second scoring dash. 'I was so determined to get into the end zone, I fought my way in.' Ricky Watters also contributed three touchdowns.

The win was sweet for the Californians, who had been beaten twice by the Falcons last season. Atlanta badly missed their cornerback, Deion Sanders, who is busy at the World Series for the Braves. 'What choice did he have?' Brent Jones, the 49ers tight end said. 'You can play in your first World Series or you can come and get abused by Jerry Rice.' Atlanta languish at the foot of the NFC West while San Francisco stay a win ahead of New Orleans, who were driven by Bobby Hebert to a 30-21 success over Phoenix.

Miami were also irresistible, Dan Marino preserving their unbeaten record by throwing for four touchdowns in the 38-17 rout of New England. Another big quarterback, John Elway, came up with one of his famous last-gasp drives (an 80- yard, three-play special) to take Denver (5-1) to the top of the AFC West with a 27-21 win over the AFC Central leaders, Houston (4-2).

Both Los Angeles clubs won. Jay Schroeder took over as Raiders quarterback when Todd Marinovitch limped off after seven minutes at Seattle to orchestrate a 19-0 victory.

In Anaheim, Jim Everett was on target with 18 of 21 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns as the Rams recorded a 38-17 triumph over the Giants. Lawrence Taylor, the New Yorkers' linebacker, was downcast after the defeat. 'I made more mistakes out there than in my 12 years I've been playing,' he said.

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