NEW ORLEANS, SEPT. 10 -- You can rock Joe Montana. You can sock Joe Montana. You can chase him like a cat chases a mouse and toss him around like a rag doll.
But you don't give him the ball with time left in a close game.
The New Orleans Saints learned that lesson well tonight. They sacked him six times, chased him all over the Superdome, then watched as he drove the 49ers 60 yards in the final minute-and-a-half for the winning field goal as the the 49ers won, 13-12, in a stumbling but successful start to their quest for a third straight Super Bowl.
"It's like fighting a rattlesnake. Give him enough time and he'll turn around and bite you," said wide receiver Eric Martin of the Saints.
The 49ers, who have seen it before, couldn't have agreed more.
"Give Joe Montana the ball with less than two minutes left and 80 percent of the time he'll win the game for you," San Francisco fullback Tom Rathman said.
Montana's heroics -- aided by his favorite playmates, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and John Taylor -- took place at the sight of one of Montana's greatest triumphs, the 55-10 victory over Denver last January that made the 49ers the first team in a decade to win two straight NFL titles.
And the heroics came after New Orleans had stopped the 49ers after Chet Brooks recovered a Dalton Hilliard fumble at the Saints 35. They stopped Roger Craig, forced an illegal procedure penalty and watched as Mike Cofer's 55-yard field goal fell a couple of yards short. It seemed the 49ers were beaten.
But the Saints, who themselves self-destructed -- two John Fourcade passes were intercepted inside the San Francisco 25 -- couldn't move either. The 49ers used their timeouts and on third down, instead of running the ball to keep the clock moving, Fourcade tried to hit Brett Perriman deep.
The ball went long, the clock stopped and the 49ers and Montana got the ball back at their 19 with 1:30 remaining.
On the first play, Montana hit Taylor for 25 yards, his longest completion of the game. On a third-down play Montana hit Craig for 11 and on the next play Rice for 20.
Then Montana threw the ball away to stop the clock and Cofer kicked the ball through the uprights he had missed three previous times. There were nine seconds remaining.
"It's disappointing to play as hard as we did and then lose the game," New Orleans Coach Jim Mora said.
Montana, under pressure all night from linebackers Rickey Jackson and Pat Swilling and a group of interchangeable linemen, finished the first game of what the 49ers call the "Threepeat" year with 26 completions in 43 attempts for 210 yards.
Andersen had field goals of 41, 39, 28 and 32 yards. But Fourcade finished just 12 for 34 for 186 yards. The Saints got just three points from two turnovers inside the San Francisco 25.
The 49ers took a 3-0 lead 4:11 into the game on Cofer's 52-yard field goal that followed a fumbled punt by Bobby Morse. That matched his career best set in 1988. At the time, San Francisco had net yardage of minus four.
The Saints tied it on Andersen's 41-yarder with 2:31 left in the period after a 46-yard drive marked by a 24-yard pass from Fourcade to Perriman.
Andersen gave the Saints a 6-3 lead midway through the second period after Toi Cook picked off a Montana pass that was deflected by Vaughn Johnson. But the Saints could gain only one yard in three plays and had to settle for the field goal.
The 49ers moved as far as the New Orleans 27 on the next series but Jackson sacked Montana on third down and Cofer's 52-yard field goal attempt was wide left. Fourcade then drove the Saints 54 yards to the San Francisco 10 to set up Andersen's 28-yarder that gave New Orleans a 9-3 halftime lead.