Unexpected glint of gold for 49ers

American football
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The Independent Online

A season in which the form book has been of about as much relevance as the good book set new standards in its unpredictability on Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers confounded the pundits, the public and, most importantly, the Dallas Cowboys with an astonishing performance in Texas Stadium.

The meeting of the two best teams of the 1990s had long been regarded as the crucial encounter of the regular season, but the 49ers contrived to undermine its status in recent weeks by repeatedly prostrating themselves before the sport's also-rans. When the news came last week that their quarterback, Steve Young, had not recovered from his shoulder injury, it was difficult to see how the Super Bowl champions could avoid a beating.

Beating there was, but it was the Cowboys who sustained it, thrashed 38-20 in front of their own fans. "I'll put it straight," Deion Sanders, the Cowboy who was a 49er, said. "They kicked our butts, and they proved they don't have to have Steve Young to beat us."

The 49ers snatched the initiative immediately, Rice scoring on an 81- yard pass play and Merton Hanks returning a fumble to establish a 14-0 lead after 84 seconds. With uncanny echoes of the NFC Championship game in January, the Cowboys continued to self-destruct and by early in the second quarter the lead had been stretched to 24-0, with Troy Aikman out of the game.

Emmitt Smith, meanwhile, was being thwarted by a Herculean effort from the 49ers defense. As a result the Cowboys' entire attacking gameplan was disrupted and even the touchdown they did muster in the second quarter - from Smith - owed much to a fortunate pass interference call.

The 49ers retaliated with their own scoring drive as the half closed and, with a 31-7 lead at the interval, the contest was all over bar the clouting. This there was plenty of during a turbulent second half but by being restricted to field goals in the third quarter the improved effort of the Cowboys was never transformed into a sustained comeback.

A famous victory should re- ignite the 49ers' season. After a turbulent month they look capable again of returning to the NFC Championship game. Should it be back in Dallas (as still looks likely), they will approach it with considerable confidence.