SAN FRANCISCO, JAN. 12 -- The San Francisco 49ers may someday remember it as just another of many brilliant afternoons, a day when they absorbed an opponent's best body punches and still walked away with a 28-10 victory in the second round of the NFC playoffs in front of 65,292 at Candlestick Park.

But it was a dizzying, depressing day for the Washington Redskins, who saw their season end in a game that was a bitter mixture of three Mark Rypien interceptions, a couple of questionable officiating calls and a lot of remarkable plays by the defending NFL champions.

"They're a great team and they prove it every time they take the field," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said of the 49ers, now 15-2 in pursuit of their third straight Super Bowl triumph. "Someone is going to have to play great to beat them. We came a long way this year, and I'm proud. We've gradually worked our way back to a certain level, but we couldn't make the plays out there today."

The 49ers may remember it as another of many days when their defense was outstanding and Joe Montana picked apart an opponent, passing for two touchdowns and 274 yards, including 200 yards and two touchdowns in a dazzling first-half display that included a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice and an eight-yarder to Mike Sherrard.

The Redskins (11-7) sacked him twice and had him throwing on the run a large part of the day and still he burned them, at least until the second half when Washington went to a Randall Cunningham-style outside containment.

The 49ers may remember it as another day when they did just enough to win and not much more, running up a 21-10 halftime lead and not scoring (or needing) another touchdown on offense.

"We knew this would be tough," 49ers Coach George Seifert said. "From the beginning of the first quarter, I could tell it was going to be one hell of a struggle. They fought us hard the whole way."

But the Redskins may remember much more than the struggle. They'll remember a day when they came teasingly close to the two-time champions, had early leads of 7-0 and 10-7 and were close to getting back into the game in the second half. A day when they outgained the champions by 103 yards (441 to 338).

The Redskins will spend a chunk of this offseason remembering what happened in the second half when they had the ball deep in 49ers territory on three straight possessions and didn't score a point.

Still within 21-10, they had first down at the San Francisco 7-yard line and Rypien was intercepted in the end zone. They had it at the 15 and Rypien was intercepted in the end zone again after he was hit as he unloaded the ball.

Finally, they had it at the 13 thanks to a Monte Coleman interception and watched that scoring chance die when it appeared cornerback Eric Davis hit wide receiver Gary Clark with the ball in the air in the end zone. No flag was thrown.

"I just couldn't believe there was no flag," Clark said. "I mean, I just assumed it would be thrown. When I heard the crowd cheering, I gave the ref an earful. I'm not saying that cost us the game. I don't think any of the calls would have changed anything because the 49ers have a better team. But there were some calls out there we should have had."

It was the toughest and bitterest of pills for a season that was in many ways a success. The Redskins had said from the start this season was about getting back to the playoffs and they did that. They also won an emotional first-round game over the Philadelphia Eagles and had come here curious to see how they'd match up with best.

What they found was that they match up very well in many areas, but not at quarterback, where Montana seemingly can raise his team to whatever level necessary.

Rypien played well at times and deserves only some of the blame for the mistakes. In fact, he made enough plays the final eight weeks this season that Gibbs didn't hesitate when asked if Rypien would be his starting quarterback when training camp begins in July.

"Yes," he said. "He has made a lot of plays for us. He's the starter."

Rypien completed 27 of 48 for 361 yards, a touchdown and the three interceptions. The last interception came in the final minute as Charles Haley batted a pass to nose tackle Michael Carter, who lumbered 61 yards for a touchdown.

The Posse -- Clark, Art Monk and Ricky Sanders -- caught 20 passes for 304 yards, Monk leading the way with 10 catches for 163 yards. Earnest Byner rushed 12 times for 51 yards but hardly played in the second half after bruising a shoulder.

"I feel as bad as all the guys on the team," Rypien said. "We had some chances inside the 20 and that's an area we've had trouble with. It's a matter of execution and I just didn't get it done."

The Redskins scored on their first two possessions and led 10-7 as the first quarter ended. But over the next 4 1/2 minutes, Montana was at his best, throwing for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

Of particular note was the play to Rice, covered by Darrell Green and Todd Bowles in the back of the end zone. Montana was flushed out of the pocket, and threw on the run, a perfect strike that Green missed by inches.

That made it 14-10, and the Redskins ran four plays and punted to put Montana back on the field.

This drive started at the 11, and on first down, he was run out of the pocket again and hit Roger Craig in stride over strong safety Alvin Walton for 32. He then made another near impossible play, finding tight end Brent Jones for 47 though he was covered by linebacker Andre Collins.

On second down from the 8, Rice went from right to left to clear out the right side. Sherrard came across the middle and was left alone. He caught the ball in stride and went in untouched to make it 21-10 with 6:31 left in the half.

Said Sherrard, activated from injured reserve during the week: "We run that from a lot of different formations. {Linebacker} Wilber Marshall was on top of me at first, but he let me go. It must have been a breakdown on their part because when I caught the ball I was ready to get hit by somebody or fake somebody out. But nobody was there."

The 49ers' offense was finished for the day. The Redskins continued to get pressure on Montana, and managed to keep him in the pocket (and scoreless) in the second half.

But they couldn't score either. On their second possession of the third quarter, they drove from their 27 to the 49ers 7. But on third and goal, Monk ran to the left corner of the end zone, and Johnny Jackson stepped in and intercepted.

"That was just underthrown," Rypien said.

The fourth quarter opened with the Redskins coming close again. On the final play of the third quarter, the Redskins were backed up to their 10, and Rypien hit Monk for 40 on a play-action pass. He then hit Monk for 14, Clark for 12 and Monk for 9.

Riggs gained two to the 15, and on first down, the Redskins made another mistake. Sanders ran deep to the right side, Monk was underneath him, and Rypien was throwing for Monk when his arm was hit. The ball fluttered into the end zone and Darryl Pollard intercepted.

Quickly though, Coleman intercepted Montana, who had gone 180 playoff passes without an interception, and returned it to the 19 with 10:28 remaining.

Once more, the Redskins didn't score. On fourth down Rypien threw for Clark in the left corner. The pass was there and so was Clark. But so was Davis.

Gibbs had been on the field complaining to officials earlier in the game, especially when Green was called for roughing Rice in the first quarter. He made it clear he wasn't blaming the officials, but he wasn't happy either.

After the game, he kept saying how proud he was of his team. He kept getting mad too.

"I'm not going to walk out of here crying," he said. "We got beat fair and square. I did think there were some things called wrong. Rice outweighs Darrell Green by 20 pounds and gets 15 yards {for Green's flinging tackle}. That's hard to understand. I just think a number of things could have gone the other way. Montana also threw five or six passes that, if they were three inches one way or the other, they're not completed."

On three TD drives, Joe Montana completed 11 of 13 passes for 182 yards.

FIRST DRIVE (4 of 4, 54 yards)

Down, Spot........................................Yards, Receiver

1st and 10 at San Francisco 26............12 yards to Brent Jones

1st and 10 at San Francisco 38.............11 yards to Jerry Rice

1st and 10 at Washington 36...............22 yards to John Taylor

3rd and 6 at Washington 10................9 yards to Harry Sydney

SECOND DRIVE (4 of 6, 41 yards)

Down, Spot........................................Yards, Receiver

1st and 10 at San Francisco 20.............1 yard to Harry Sydney

1st and 10 at San Francisco 21............14 yards to Roger Craig

2nd and 6 at 50.........................Incomplete to Tom Rathman

3rd and 6 at 50...........................16 yards to John Taylor

2nd and goal at Washington 10...........Incomplete to Tom Rathman

3rd and goal at Washington 10..............10 yards to Jerry Rice

THIRD DRIVE (3 of 3, 87 yards)

Down, Spot........................................Yards, Receiver

1st and 10 at San Francisco 11............32 yards to Roger Craig

2nd and 7 at San Francisco 46.............47 yards to Brent Jones

2nd and goal at Washington 8.............8 yards to Mike Sherrard