GREEN BAY, WIS., NOV. 4 -- There is something about this San Francisco 49ers team that gives them an indestructible look. Things can go horribly wrong for them, like the way they rushed for only five yards in the first half today against the Green Bay Packers, and somehow they still swagger off the field victorious.
What must happen for them to lose? The first course of action would be to tie up quarterback Joe Montana and wide receiver Jerry Rice and stash them in the locker room. Montana threw for 411 yards and three touchdowns, 187 of those yards and one of those touchdowns to Rice in undefeated San Francisco's 24-20 victory before 58,835 at Lambeau Field.
The 49ers are 8-0, and if the New York Giants defeat the Indianapolis Colts Monday night in the Hoosier Dome it would mark the first time since 1934 two teams have started 8-0. That's when the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions began 10-0.
The 49ers may not be blowing out teams this season, but they are winning, and right now no one, with the possible exception of the Giants, does it better.
"People seem to think we have to blow people out," said Montana. "That would be nice, but there are going to be close games. We'd like to blow people out but I don't think that would be realistic. Beating us is a season for some teams."
San Francisco also extended its NFL-record road winning streak to 15 games (the two Super Bowl wins don't count because they were played on neutral sites). The 49ers also have won 16 straight overall -- one shy of the NFL record set by the Bears in 1933-34. Their last loss came Nov. 19 to these very same Packers, 21-17, at Candlestick Park.
But there would be no such Packers repeat today, mostly because of Montana and Rice and the 49ers' belief that they can overcome just about any obstacle.
Rice had six catches for those 187 yards, including a 64-yarder that gave the 49ers a 24-13 lead with 7:16 left. Cornerback Mark Lee had single coverage and when Rice cut inside on a hook pattern, Lee slipped and Rice raced for the end zone.
"Things didn't go right for us early," said Rice, who already has 50 catches and 10 touchdowns. "But as this team always does, we kept fighting. As for the catch, all I remember is a guy slipping and then people breathing on my back."
But Montana was the most impressive player on the field. He completed 25 of 40 passes for those 411 yards and the three touchdowns and wasn't sacked, thanks to the solid protection of his offensive line. He began slowly, missing passes he should have completed. That quickly changed, and there was little the Packers could do to put pressure on Montana in the second half.
"I thought we pressured him a lot," said Green Bay Coach Lindy Infante, who must have been watching a different game. "We shut down the run, but even when we flushed him out he still found someone open."
San Francisco has had a number of close games this year, including a three-point home win last week against the Cleveland Browns. The 49ers know they haven't been playing typical 49ers ball -- Montana already has nine interceptions, more than his total for all of last season. And safety Ronnie Lott warned they would have to improve drastically if they want to three-peat.
One of the problems has been their running game. Roger Craig played for the first time in four weeks after suffering a knee injury and the 49ers missed him. Still, it was obvious that even though he is back, it's going to take time to get the running game cranking again. Craig ran five times for eight yards. San Francisco totaled just 34 yards in 20 rushes and was held to five yards in the first half.
"Give me time to get back into it," Craig said. "Give me time."
The Packers' defense stuffed the 49ers the first 29 minutes 49 seconds of the game. As for the Green Bay offense, San Francisco Coach George Seifert said he thinks Don Majkowski "is the next Joe Montana." He looked the part, throwing for 274 yards, two touchdowns, and completing 22 of 33 attempts.
But Majkowski, as usual, felt pressure all game, especially from linebacker and sometime lineman Charles Haley, who sacked him once and was in his face a handful of other times.
"They did a good job of pressuring me," said Majkowski.
Green Bay still managed to build a 10-0 lead behind the athletic 20-yard touchdown catch of wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, in which he stretched his entire body to catch the ball. That followed a 30-yard field goal by Chris Jacke. Green Bay had the momentum, that is, until there were 11 seconds left in the first half.
After Sharpe's catch, it took the 49ers just three plays and 27 seconds to score, Montana finding wide receiver John Taylor weaving underneath on a crossing pattern. The 23-yard touchdown made it 10-7 and completely changed the game's momentum.
"Up until that point we didn't do much offensively," Montana said.
Mike Cofer tied it late in the third quarter with a 22-yard field goal and San Francisco took the lead for good when Montana found tight end Brent Jones from the Green Bay 6-yard line 2:15 into the fourth period.
Then came a 37-yard field goal by Jacke that moved Green Bay within 17-13. But the 64-yarder to Rice all but sealed the 49ers' victory.
Majkowski-to-Sharpe for 17 yards pulled the Packers to 24-20 with 5:10 left, but that ended the scoring.