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NFL Championship Games
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Super Bowl XXIII - San Francisco 49ers vs Cincinnati Bengals: 2nd Half
Part 1 - SB XXIII Pregame | Part 2 - SB XXIII 1st Half
Walsh made an adjustment at halftime that would pay off in the second. He ex­plained later, "The strong safety (David Fulcher) was really giving us problems. We used our tight end to his side of the field and then worked the weakside more. We picked up the blitz better in the second half." The Bengals rededicated them­selves to establish their running game.
DB Eric Wright recalled: "At the break, we were confident we were going to win. We felt the game was starting from scratch and that we'd come up at the begin­ning of the second half, and it would be a different football game. We figured we'd go out and take the game over. The surprise was that it was Cincinnati who came out strong in the third quarter."

Quarter 3

Despite starting from their 14 after a holding penalty on the kickoff, the Bengals took the lead on their first possession, which traveled 61y in 12 plays and consumed over half the period: 9:15. Along the way, they overcame a holding penalty and three 5y markoffs. The big plays were a 23y pass down the middle to Cris Collins­worth to the SF 47, a swing pass to Brooks for 20y after the holding penalty, and a 3rd-and-8 strike to Collinsworth for 11 to the SF 22. But a false start penalty, two runs by Woods for a net of 2y, and an incompletion forced the Bengals to settle for Breech's 43y field goal. Bengals 6 49ers 3 (5:45)
"That was the way we wanted to run the offense," said Esiason. "Unfortunately we were only able to do it once or twice."

Esiason passes as Charles Haley grabs his shirt.
The 49ers moved across midfield on Montana's 11y keeper. Then they made another first down on a spot pass to Rice for 12 to the Cincy 42. But a sack by Reggie Williams and an incompletion brought out Helton. His high punt almost proved disastrous for the Bengals. It hit the ground inside the 10, bounced back, and hit the heel of blocker Ira Hillary. Fortunately for Cincinnati, Ray Horton jumped on the ball on the 19.

Montana throws a third quarter pass.
But that just postponed the turnover by one play. Esiason rolled left and threw a pass that LB Bill Romanowski batted into the air and caught as he was tackled at the 23.
The Bengals defense continued their fine play by holding the 49ers to a field goal. First down: Rice dropped a flat pass. Second down: Craig gained three. Third down: Pass to Rice who was tackled 2y short of the line to gain. So Cofer kicked a 32y field goal. Bengals 6 49ers 6 (0:50)
The tie lasted 17 seconds of playing time. Stanford Jennings took the kickoff on the seven, roared up the middle into the clear. Terry Greer gained ground on him and made a dive at the five that tripped the runner, who fell into the end zone. Bengals 13 49ers 6 (0:34)

Terry Greer dives for Stanford Jennings at the end of his 93y kickoff return.
The 49ers kickoff return was a stark contrast as John Taylor was downed on the 15. Montana threw to Rice sprinting across the field from right to left. He shook off DB Lewis Billups and turned upfield to the 46. End of third quarter: Bengals 13 49ers 6

Quarter 4

The Niners continued to the tying touchdown. First, they executed their second straight excellent pass play as Montana rolled right and threw over the defender to Craig streaking down the right sideline to the 14 before Billups tackled him. Then Joe forced one down the middle into the end zone to Taylor that Billups had in his arms but dropped. The drop would sting the Bengals because, on the next snap, Montana, unpertubed by the near interception, threw left to Rice on a down and out. He caught it and hung the ball over the flag into the end zone. Bengals 13 49ers 13 (14:03)

Rice scores the tying touchdown.
Cofer's kick went out of bounds, putting the ball at the 35. Esiason's 8y pass to Brown and Woods's 4y run gained a first down at the 47. Woods ran again for a couple before DE Charles Haley grabbed as he tried to pass. He threw the ball just as he was being pulled down, but the referee ruled him in the grasp for a 6y loss. Under pressure from Haley again, Esiason threw high to Collinsworth. The 49ers avoided a catastrophe on the punt when Taylor caught the ball a split second be­fore being hit by Horton. The ball flew back to the 18 where Darryl Pollard recov­ered for the 49ers.

Montana flips a short pass in the fourth quarter.
The Rice-Billups duel continued on the next play when Montana threw long to Jerry down the right side. He leaped and caught the ball with Billups on his back just before Wilcots arrived at the Bengals 47. Craig ran twice, gaining 7y and losing one. On the crucial 3rd-and-four, Montana went to Taylor on the left side, but Fulcher knocked the ball away. Walsh opted for the field goal rather than punt. But Cofer's 49y try sailed wide right with 8:47 on the clock.
Mixing inside runs and sideline passes, Esiason led a drive that used up over five minutes and resulted in the Bengals regaining the lead. They quickly faced third down after Woods gained nothing and Esiason lost three trying to pass. But Boomer hit Hillary on a long down and out to the 46. With Cincy's big offensive line beginning to wear down the defense, Brooks gained one before Woods zipped off the left side to the SF 43. Then Ickey slanted right for seven more. Mixing his calls adroitly, Boomer threw high to Brooks at the right sideline. He leaped to snag the ball, came down with his left foot inbounds, but his right foot landed out. How­ever, the officials ruled he was pushed out, making the pass complete for a first down at the 24 to the consternation of 49er fans. Another false start by C Bruce Kozerski cost the Bengals 5y, but Woods got back four of those. Esiason tried the same pass to Brooks but further downfield to no avail. On 3rd-and-11, Jen­nings took a handout for 3y to set the ball in the middle of the field for Breech, who booted the 40-yarder to put the Cincinnati ahead. Bengals 16 49ers 13 (3:20)
On the 49ers sideline, backup QB Steve Young turned to Montana and said, "Well, it's set up perfectly for us."
Del Rodgers should have let the kickoff go into the end zone for a touchback. Instead, he took it at the goal line and ran out to the 15. To make matters worse, an illegal block penalty put the ball on the eight.
Collinsworth recalled an exchange on the Bengals sideline after the ball was placed on the eight.
"I heard somebody screaming, 'We got 'em!'
"I yelled back, 'Will you see if number 16 is in the huddle?'
"He said, 'Yeah.'
"I said, 'Then we haven't got 'em...'"
On the 49ers sideline, CB Don Griffin hugged Ronnie Lott. "You gotta believe," he yelled over the noise of the crowd. "We're going to win this one."
Lott said, "It was eerie. The same thing happened in 1981 against Dallas. [DT] Archie Reese came up to me and said the same thing, same words."
Montana also remembered the comeback against Dallas. "Here we go again," he thought to himself as he convened the huddle. According to Rice, Joe said, "We can do it. We've got time. Let's go." "He called two plays at a time, and he told us that if we completed a pass, to get right back on the ball."
During the TV timeout after the kickoff, Montana, known as "Joe Cool," loosened up everyone by pointing to a movie actor in the stands and saying, "Hey, look over there. It's John Candy."
The remark was directed primarily at T Harris Barton, who was so nervous he was vibrating. "Joe recognized at that point in time that I was out of control," recalled Barton. "I was yelling and screaming, 'Come on, let's go, let's get it going, this is the biggest drive of my life. If we want the ring, we've got to go out and get it.' And he looked at me and he goes, 'Hey, [Harris] ... check it out ...look over there in that end zone ... hey there's John Candy.' I go, 'John Candy?' Sure enough, John Candy's sitting there eating some popcorn. I look at him, and I look at the clock, there's three minutes to go in the game, the biggest game of the year, and he's so relaxed."
When Joe's wife Jennifer heard the story, she said, "It's typical Joe, to take everyone's mind, especially Harris's, off the importance of that drive just to remind him, this is a game. Let's go have some fun."
The stage was set for one of the greatest clutch drives in NFL history.
Montana directed his own no-huddle "two-minute offense," which the 49ers rehearsed in practice every week. They also had used it more times in games than any other team in the league.
Play 1: Short pass to Craig over the middle for 8y.
Play 2: 7y pass to Frank over the middle.
Play 3: Quick out to Rice on the right side, his ninth catch of the game. Out of bounds at the 30.

Jerry Rice runs after catching a fourth quarter pass.
"I was a little cautious down there," Montana admitted. Throughout the drive, he repeated his signals at the line of scrimmage, yelling to make sure everyone heard them over the crowd roar.
Before that drive, the Bengals had stopped the 49ers on nine of 12 third downs. "In that situation," Cincinnati defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said, "down and distance don't mean much. So we stayed with the same coverages we used on third down the entire game. We didn't want to be conservative, but we didn't want to sell the farm with a maximum blitz either."
Walsh: "They were dropping the middle linebacker deep to cover the tight end. That let Roger Craig run the curl pattern underneath. But the key was Rice. We just didn't think they could cover him man for man."
Craig: "Joe kept reminding everybody to get as many yards as he could, but to protect the ball and get out of bounds when we had a chance."
Play 4: Inside handoff to Craig who gets a yard. Two-minute warning. Montana comes to the sideline to confer with Walsh.
Young: "You think Joe Montana isn't going to notice what Cincinnati was doing? The Bengals went away from their game plan. They were playing prevent."
T Bubba Paris: "During that drive, Joe displayed all the confidence in the world, and he never says anything. He's able to do it through his persona, his confidence, the level, the way that he calls the plays, the way that he explains it i the huddle the way that he's able to make it all work."
Play 5: Craig 4y run. SF first time out although it wasn't needed because Cincinnati had an injured player.
The injured player was DE Jim Skow. He returned after missing two downs, but LeBeau felt his absence hampered their ability to stunt.
"The injury may have affected them," Walsh says, "but with the passes we were throwing, the pass rush wasn't all that important. If we were going to be stopped, it was going to be with coverage."
Play 6: Pass to Rice on a down and out to the left. Out of bounds at the Cincy 48.
The 49ers lined up in slot formation to get the man-to-man coverage they wanted.
Bengal DB Billups: "We felt like they had to go to the outside of the field, and Bengal what the defense we were using does. It shuts off the sideline. We felt like they didn't have enough time to go to the middle. They just did the opposite of what we thought they would do. They started bringing Rice through the middle of the field. It was just great play-calling."
49ers C Randy Cross: "When the drive started, we were thinking field goal. But once we crossed the 50, we were going for the throat. When we got to the 10, I didn't care if I had to take him over on my back. We were going to score a touchdown."
Play 7: While back-pedaling, Montana flips over the middle to Craig to the 35. Play 8: Incomplete to Rice. (1:22)
Once the drive reached the Bengal 35, Montana remembers thinking, "We got the tie." When he stepped under center for the next snap, "I was short of breath, and when I screamed the next play, I got dizzy ... like I was blacking out. Then my vision blurred. I figured maybe I was hyperventilating. So I stood there with my hands under center for what seemed like an hour, trying to decide. 'Should I go ahead or shouldn't I?' My head cleared a little. So I figured by the time I got the ball back and ead the defense, I'd be okay. But the second I stepped back into the pocket, the fuzziness returned. Rice got open breaking outside, but all I saw was the red blur of his shirt. So I threw it away, out of bounds. I couldn't risk an interception because I knew I wasn't all there."
"I looked to the sideline and started pointing in circles to my head to let Bill know I was dizzy on that play. But he wasn't watching me. Then I realized if he though something was wrog, he might take me out. So I went back to the huddle, and I was all right. It was the strangest feeling I've ever had on the field. I was in another world."
Play 9: Drop off under pressure to Craig but an ineligible man downfield, C Randy Cross. 10y penalty back to the Bengal 45.
Play 10: 2nd and 20. Strike to Rice over the middle for 27y to the 18 where CB Rickey Dixon makes a touchdown-saving tackle.
"We had three people there," recalls LeBeau, "but Rice went up for the ball, and our three guys knocked one another off."
LB Reggie Williams: "That was the play that broke our backs."
CB Ray Horton: "It was the play of the game. We were in perfect coverage for it. I should have made the interception."
Play 11: 8y toss to Craig over the middle. SF timeout (0:39).
Play 12: From the 10, Montana fires to Taylor down the left seam for the touchdown on his first reception of the game.

Montana throws winning pass.

Taylor's touchdown catch past lunging Ray Horton
Wyche: "Our last chance was to defend against Jerry Rice. I thought when it came down to one play, they would go to Rice."
Taylor lined up at tight end on the left side of the formation. "Basically, all I was to do was just nod out and go straight up the field. Once I came off the ball and nodded out, the cornerback stayed outside, and I just went straight up. I saw that the weak safety, No. 20 (Horton), he just went outside of me, so I just made sure that I stayed inside. Joe put the ball right on the money."
: "It didn't pose a problem until they put Rice in motion to that side. When he went, I had to widen out a little bit. It gave Taylor more room to operate. He shot right inside. Before I could react, the ball was in the air."
S Fulcher saw what was happening and came over as fast as he could. "Two steps," he said. "That's all. Two steps too late. I've watched the replay dozens of times."
Craig revealed a secret about the touchdown play. "Tom Rathman and I almost blew it. Because Tom and I communicated so well together, we would often switch positions on the field without anyone knowing it. We were pretty much interchangeable at halfback and fullback. On the game-winning play—"20-Halfback Curl X-Up"—I was designated to be the primary option. I was supposed to run a curl route over the middle, and the plan was for Joe to dump it off to me. I should have lined up on the left side, but instead Tom and I mistakenly went to the wrong sides. When Tom and I both realized we were in the wrong spots, we decided to just go ahead and run the play without switching sides. Because I was now the fullback, I should've stayed in the backfield to block. But I knew I was supposed to be the intended target, so I released out of the backfield. And because Tom figured he had taken over my responsibility, he also ran a curl route on the other side. Because of the confusion, there was nobody left in the backfield to pick up the blitz. The Bengals blitzed two linebackers on the play. I saw them coming at Joe out of the corner of my eye as I was leaving the backfield. As you can imagine, I was more than a little scared of what might happen. Luckily, Joe saw the blitz coming and quickly went to John Taylor, his secondary receiver. Obviously, everything turned out all right, but it was one of those things that could have been disastrous."
Cofer kicked the all-important extra point. The Bengals would need a touchdown for a miracle win. 49ers 20 Bengals 16 (0:34)
Brooks returned the kickoff 15y to the 26. Clock stopped at 0:29.
Cincinnati still had all their timeouts. Facing seven defensive backs, Esiason hit McGee who stepped out of bounds at the 31.
Boomer rolled left to escape pressure and threw incomplete as he was being tackled by Haley. The referee ruled in-the-grasp for a loss of four.
Timeout Cincinnati (0:17)
Long pass too high for Collinsworth well covered at the SF 40 on the left sideline.
Hail Mary pass to Collinsworth broken up at the SF 25 as time expires.
The video shows that the clock should have been stopped with two seconds left as the ball sailed out of bounds.

Watch the game ...

David Fulcher

Cris Collinsworth

Esiason hit as he throws.


Reggie Williams

Ira Hillary

Rice snags a pass between two defenders.

Bill Romanowski

Rice catches another pass in his duel with Billups.


Darryl Pollard


Bruce Kozerski


Del Rodgers

Don Griffin

Harris Barton

Jim Skow

Dick LeBeau, Bengals Defensive Coordinator

Randy Cross blocks.

49ers exult as Billups walks away downcast.

Bruce Collie hugs John Taylor after he caught winning TD.

49ers celebrate winning TD. Randy Cross (61) is thankful his penalty didn't prevent the score.

Montana celebrates winning TD.

Wyche and Walsh after the game.

Jerry Rice won the MVP award by a 10-1 margin over Joe Montana.

Final statistics

  • Time of possession: 49ers 27:17 Bengals 32:43
  • First downs: 49ers 23 Bengals 13
  • Rushing: 49ers 27-112 Bengals 28-106
  • Passing: 49ers 36-23-0/341 Bengals 25-11-1/123
  • Return yardage: 49ers 8-133 Bengals 5-137
  • Fumbles-Lost: 49ers 4-1 Bengals 10
  • Penalties: 49ers 4-32 Bengals 7-65
  • Punting average: 49ers 4-37.0 Bengals 5-44.2
  • Attendance: 75,129


49ers Locker Room

  • Of course, Coach Walsh was asked if he was retiring. "I'm not about to say that. I'm going to meet with Eddie DeBartolo early next week. And we'll decide what our future should be." Then he turned to the game. "This is the greatest moment I can recall with the San Francisco 49ers. We put it together in the final drive. So much credit goes to our entire team for having the poise to hang in there and stay with it. We battled through great odds tonight to win the game. It's a culmination of years of hard work and a quarterback who is one of the greatest of all time."
  • Joe Montana: "It's got to be one of our best (games). In the situation in this type of game, being down by a field goal and to come back and win it that way has got to rank right up there."
  • T Bubba Paris on Montana: "When you walked out on the field and looked into his eyes, you could almost see the Super Bowl ring on his finger."
  • Jerry Rice as he held the MVP trophy: "I was real lucky today. Today is a day I will never forget. It was just stupendous."
  • Roger Craig on Jerry Rice: "He was playing on guts tonight. He was hurting. He played hurt all year. This guy, Jerry Rice, if there is a war breaking out, you can count on him being ready for it."
Bengals Locker Room
  • Coach Wyche: "This one hurts. It hurts more for us because we have come so far." On Walsh's play-calling: "What Bill did is what he does best–go to his best people. He does a good job of identifying them and highlighting them. They've got some great players and a couple of superstars."
  • Boomer Esiason:
  • Cris Collinsworth: "Joe Montana is not human. I don't want to call him a god, but he's definitely somewhere in between. I've never seen a guy ... that every single time he's had the chips down and people are countinghim out, and he's come back."
  • DB Eric Thomas: "I did feel like we had it won because of the way the defense played all year. On the last drive of every game, we would get them out of there and make sure we came out with a win."
  • The Bengals felt that the loss of Tim Krumrie in the first period proved costly. "Timmy is our leader on defense," said David Grant, Krumrie's replacement, "and when your leader goes down, it is a terrible feeling. He was in a lot of pain. He told me to go out there and make him proud." "He's an intense competitor," added LB Reggie Williams. "I still feel we played a good defense holding the 49ers to 20 points. I think the experts were expecting them to score twice as many."
Postscript: A few days after the Super Bowl, Bill Walsh announced his retirement as head coach although he remained with the organization as vice president of Football Operations.
Defensive coordinator George Seifert became head coach and led the 49ers to the Super Bowl championship the next season.
Super Bowl XXIII Champion San Francisco 49ers

Part 1 - SB XXIII Pregame | Part 2 - SB XXIII 1st Half