They didn't do any whooping or hollering in the San Francisco 49ers locker room yesterday. They didn't linger to celebrate. They didn't high five or slap each other around joyously.
"This is the kind of game we should win," said safety Dwight Hicks, who intercepted two passes, one for a touchdown, and ran a fumble back 80 yards for a touchdown. "We're a pretty good team now."
Hicks didn't follow the thought to the end, but the implication was clear: the 49ers are pretty good; the Washington Redskins are not. Yesterday's 30-17 San Francisco victory in RFK Stadium was expected.
"They're about like we were in '79 when (Coach) Bill (Walsh) first took over," said quarterback Joe Montana. "They're still trying to learn a new system. They do some things very well, but then they make mistakes on the big plays. That's what used to happen to us. It still does now, only less. They'll get better. We did."
The 1979 team Montana was talking about finished 2-14. Last year, the record was 6-10. Walsh's innovative offensive system produced lots of points, but the defense also produced points for the opposition.
The major weakness was the defensive backfield. The 49ers went into the draft determined to improve themselves there. In the first round, they drafted cornerback Ronnie Lott out of Southern California. In the second round they took safety Carlton Williamson from Pittsburgh. And, on the third round they chose cornerback Eric Wright from Missouri.
Before camp even began, Walsh and George Seifert, his defensive backfield coach, decided the three rookies would start along with Hicks, the veteran of the group because of two years experience.
"We decided we had to use the four preseason games as if they were four years," Seifert said. "We put them under the gun from the beginning. They ran every play in practice, played almost every play in the exhibition games. They were out there all the time. But they had to be. It was the only way to learn."
The young backs are still learning. They have been burned at times in the first five weeks, but have made some big plays. Lott returned an interception for a touchdown in the New Orleans game. Yesterday, Hicks' fumble return was as close to a key play as there was in the game. It was set up by Lott's hit.
It started with the Redskins on the San Francisco 22 with first and 10 and trailing, 7-0, on their first possession. Terry Metcalf swept right and looked to have room outside, but Lott came up to force the play and Metcalf tried to cut inside.
"You have to grab Metcalf up high because he's so elusive," Lott said. "He kind of tried to jump past me and I got my helmet on him. When I looked up, Dwight was running the other way."
Lott's helmet jarred the ball out of Metcalf's hands. As the ball popped into the air, Hicks flicked it, then grabbed it, then sped down the sideline. "It was just there," Hicks said. "I grabbed it and started running. It wasn't all that hard. Ronnie just made a hell of a hit."
That was not the only surprise the secondary produced on the cool afternoon. The Redskins had planned to try to go deep on the young backs but were surprised when they came out playing off the receivers. "We wanted to go up top early," quarterback Joe Theismann said. "But that didn't pan out. We still created one-on-one situations, which is what we wanted. You do that, it's a win situation. Either our guy wins or their guy wins."
Hadn't their guys done most of the winning? "They won some," the quarterback said quietly.
"They had a lot of good ideas," Hicks said, trying to be gracious. "But they're still trying to learn the system. It takes time and they're going to make mistakes. Today, they just didn't execute. I wouldn't blame Theismann though; a lot of times he had the ball on the money and their receivers just dropped the ball. That wasn't his fault."