SAN FRANCISCO, SEPT. 16 -- The Washington Redskins got the entire Joe Montana textbook this afternoon, and arguably the NFL's greatest passer ever had one of his best days as the San Francisco 49ers rolled to a 26-13 victory in front of 64,287 at Candlestick Park.
On a sunny day, the magnificence of Montana again was on display as he passed for 390 yards and two touchdowns to hand the Redskins their first loss of the season after a victory against Phoenix.
He led a team that won for the 26th time in 29 games, scoring on its first possession, leading all the way and seemingly doing whatever was necessary.
"I think he's a great quarterback and they're a great team," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "The 49ers right now are playing at a level now that nobody else has been able to play at for the last couple of years. We knew this would be a barometer for where we are and it was."
Montana passed John Brodie as the 49ers' all-time passing leader, his 390-yard total the sixth-best effort of his career He hit Jerry Rice with a 12-yard touchdown pass and John Taylor with a 49-yarder and guided Mike Cofer into position for four field goals.
Overall, the 49ers (2-0) ran up 487 yards on a defense that again played well. But that only tells part of the story because Montana was at his best when it mattered most.
The Redskins stopped him time and again on first and second downs, only to have Montana tear them to shreds on third downs. For the day, he was almost beyond belief, completing 12 of 16 third-down passes for 186 yards. Overall, he was 29 of 44.
Still, the Redskins had chances, and when they break this one down, they may look first at a quarterback who had a bad day. Mark Rypien completed 17 of 37 for 241 yards, and while he may not deserve all the blame, not on a day when the cornerbacks were roasted and the special teams toasted, it was his failure to keep the offense on the field that kept giving Montana chances.
Rypien said he "could kick myself in the butt for some things I did out there." He may have a long checklist in Monday's film session, from missing open receivers here and there to throwing passes that were often too high, too low or behind the receiver.
Gibbs reserved judgment, saying he wanted to see the films. What he may see is a quarterback who hasn't yet played the way he did down the stretch last season and very much like a guy who is 123 career starts behind Montana.
"We needed to keep our defense off the field as much as possible and we didn't do it," Rypien said, refusing to duck the responsibility. "I thought I was making good reads, but I didn't always come up with the good throws."
But there is also enough blame to go around. Montana's offensive line -- the one that allowed six sacks last week in a last-minute victory over the New Orleans Saints -- formed an airtight seal around him and he responded by burning cornerbacks Darrell Green and Martin Mayhew.
Green was assigned to Rice, who caught six passes for 74 yards. Green did set up a Redskins scoring chance with a fourth-quarter interception. Mayhew got Taylor, who caught eight for 160 yards.
"They didn't win all those games by accident," Green said. "We weren't overwhelmed, but you have to respect how they work together."
There were other shining moments for the 49ers, and they didn't involve Montana: Taylor broke a 30-yard punt return when Ralf Mojsiejenko out-kicked his coverage in the first quarter; a field goal was blocked; safety Ronnie Lott stuffed a goal-line run; etcetera, etcetera.
The Redskins should have seen the end at the beginning, when Montana entered after the opening kickoff and led the 49ers on a 60-yard, 13-play drive for Cofer's 31-yard field goal. He kept the drive alive with three straight third-down completions -- a six-yarder to Wesley Walls and a 12-yarder and 26-yarder to Taylor.
The third time the 49ers got the ball he led an eight-play, 67-yard drive that ended with Rice cutting behind Green and catching a 12-yard touchdown pass. He faced two third-down plays on that drive, hitting Rice for 30 over Green and fullback Tom Rathman across the middle for 14.
Rice's score made it 10-0 and the second quarter was 42 seconds old.
"We were clearly in sync," 49ers Coach George Seifert said.
The Redskins responded by driving 66 yards to the San Francisco 20, where Rypien, not seeing wide-open running back Kelvin Bryant, missed wide receiver Gary Clark on third and four. Chip Lohmiller kicked a 37-yard field goal to make it 10-3.
But Montana took the 49ers 80 yards in five plays, with Taylor beating Mayhew for a 49-yard touchdown to make it 17-3.
The Redskins may not have been out of it at any point, but they were on the ropes and bleeding from this point on.
They responded with an 83-yard drive that ended with Rypien hitting wide receiver Art Monk with a 35-yard touchdown pass. The problem was that it came 1:48 before the half, more than enough time for Montana, who connected on six straight passes, to move Cofer into position for a 29-yarder with one second left.
The Redskins then very nearly got back into the game to open the second half. They began with a drive from their 24 to the 49ers 15. Rypien missed Monk on third and six, and Lohmiller came in to try a 33-yard field goal.
The snap from John Brandes was high and Charles Haley rumbled up the middle to block the kick.
But the 49ers were stopped and the Redskins again moved the ball. Rypien hooked up with Clark on a 40-yarder than gave the Redskins first and goal at the 1.
At this point, the day unraveled as running back Gerald Riggs was hit by safety Chet Brooks on first down and by linebacker Matt Millen for a loss of two on second down.
Gibbs then called a naked reverse for Rypien, but it never got going. The 49ers gambled and safety Ronnie Lott was in the backfield almost before Rypien faked the handoff to Riggs. Lohmiller's 20-yard field goal made it 20-13, but the Redskins had blown their best chance of the day.
Montana and the 49ers held the ball for 9 1/2 minutes their next two possessions, got two field goals out of it and the Redskins were almost out of chances.
They had one final hope when Green stepped in front of Rice to intercept at the 49ers 45 with 5:30 remaining. But Rypien missed a couple of passes, and on fourth and four at the 39, he missed wide receiver Ricky Sanders across the middle.
The game ended on a perfect note. After Rypien's final completion, the 49ers got the ball with 4:44 left and Montana ran out the clock, ending the game on the Redskins 14.
"They gave me all kinds of time," Montana said of his offensive line, which was roundly ripped for its performance in New Orleans. "I think the way we played today was close to how we were playing at the end of last season. When you have the kind of time I had, we can throw to anyone, the backs, tight ends or wideouts."
Green spoke for a lot of his teammates when he said: "I came in here with a lot of respect for Jerry Rice and the 49ers. We stopped them on first and second down but they made plays they needed to make. That was the difference in the game."