ATLANTA, OCT. 14 -- Atlanta had traveled light years. Just four games into rebuilding, the Falcons were contenders, crashing into second place in the NFC West and threatening to crash the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers.
Then Joe Montana came to town.
With all the talk the Falcons leveled at the 49ers and with all the energy Atlanta directed into today's game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Montana simply stepped back in the pocket to school -- and scald -- the defense. He threw for 476 yards and six touchdowns -- both team records -- and the 49ers pushed the Falcons back into the pack with a 45-35 whipping.
"I don't know of a quarterback that can play any better than that," Falcons Coach Jerry Glanville said. "He taught us a lesson we didn't want to learn."
The lesson? Atlanta wide receiver Andre Rison thought for perhaps 30 seconds before answering.
"What champions are made of, that's what they taught us," he said. "We're there. The talent is there. Maybe we can take a page of their book and learn how to win. Hopefully we'll carry what we learned from this game into next week."
The way the 49ers teach lessons makes for hard learning. It's been duly recorded. All the last-minute comebacks. The Super Bowl rout of Denver last year. Today they extended their NFL record of consecutive road wins to 13, moved to 5-0 this season and found out, for them at least, the welcome mat is still out on Atlanta (2-3).
Atlanta's learning may be even more difficult. Quarterback Chris Miller sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee early in the fourth quarter and his status for next week's game against the Rams is unclear.
The Montana siege started early; he struck just three plays into the game for a 24-yard score to wide receiver Jerry Rice. Atlanta fumbled on the first play and the 49ers were off and gunning.
Montana connected four more times with his favorite receiver for scores, allowing Rice to tie the NFL record for most touchdown receptions in a game. After the quick strike, Rice also caught touchdowns of 24, 19, 13 and 15, the last giving the 49ers a 45-21 lead that was simply too much for the Falcons.
This was the same San Francisco team that had scored all of 19 points three weeks ago when these teams met in California. It was the same group against which many of the Falcons had guaranteed a win. They hadn't bet on Montana having a career day.
"Our passing game was particularly good today," 49ers Coach George Seifert said. "It was the best since I've been a head coach. We used the audible well against the blitz."
Said Montana, who was not terribly impressed with his big day: "I had an off and on day. At times I played well but not up to the standards of a Super Bowl."
It wasn't just Rice, either. Take away his yardage and Montana still threw for 251 yards. Brent Jones (five), Mike Sherrard (four) and Tom Rathman (four) each had four or more catches.
Said Glanville: "We did everything I know in football to the quarterback and it didn't seem to matter. . . . I can't wait until that quarterback retires."