December 18, 2009

1995: Young to Rice Leads 49ers Over Vikings

The Monday night matchup at San Francisco’s 3Com Park on December 18, 1995 promised to be a good one. The host 49ers, defending league champions, were 10-4 and leading the NFC West by two games, while the visiting Minnesota Vikings had an 8-6 record and were fighting for a playoff spot.

San Francisco started fast, with three first quarter touchdowns. QB Steve Young hit WR Jerry Rice for an eight-yard score, although the PAT attempt failed. RB Dexter Carter returned a punt 78 yards for a TD, and RB Derek Loville ran for a successful two-point conversion. It was Young to Rice again, this time on a 46-yard pass play that staked the 49ers to a 21-0 lead.

The Vikings fought back in the second quarter. Placekicker Fuad Reveiz got them on the board with a 29-yard field goal, and then QB Warren Moon threw a six-yard scoring pass to WR Cris Carter that cut the 49ers margin to 21-10. With just over six minutes left in the half, Rice scored for the third time on a Young pass play that covered 31 yards (for the second time, the extra point attempt failed). Minnesota got a break with a 42-yard return of an interception by CB Donald Frank that set up Moon’s second TD pass of the game, again to Carter for two yards. When Reveiz hit on a 43-yard field goal as time ran out, the San Francisco lead was just seven points (27-20).

Once again in the third quarter the Vikings got a break thanks to the defense as they recovered a fumble by the 49ers on the San Francisco 19 yard line. A six-yard Moon touchdown pass to WR Jake Reed evened the score at 27-27. The 49ers roared back on a 67-yard drive highlighted by a 41-yard Young to Rice pass play and regained the lead with a 20-yard Jeff Wilkins field goal.

It was Young and Rice figuring prominently on the 80-yard fourth quarter drive that, in effect, put the game away for the Niners. Rice caught two passes totaling 62 yards, and Young ran in from five yards out for the touchdown. While Reveiz kicked one more field goal for the Vikings, the game ended up a 37-30 win for San Francisco.

Young put up big passing numbers, accumulating 425 yards while completing 30 of 49 passes that included three TDs and two interceptions. Rice was the chief target, catching 14 passes for a career-high 289 yards (a Monday Night Football record), with three touchdowns. The running game had been negligible – the 49ers gained a total of just 43 yards on 23 carries, with Loville leading the way at 21 yards on 12 attempts.

Minnesota’s Moon couldn’t keep pace, completing 22 of 39 passes for 224 yards with three touchdowns and none picked off. Carter was his top receiver, catching 12 passes for 88 yards and the two scores. The Vikings weren’t much better running the ball, with 75 yards on 18 attempts; RB Amp Lee led all runners with 44 yards on five carries, with a 24-yard gain assisting his total.

San Francisco lost the season finale the next week to end at 11-5 and at the top of the division. However, they didn’t repeat as champions - while they won in the wild card round over Philadelphia, they lost the ensuing divisional playoff to the Green Bay Packers. Minnesota lost in the last week as well to finish at 8-8 and in fourth place in the NFC Central Division.

Steve Young missed five games during the season, but still threw for 3200 yards and led the NFL in completion percentage (66.9); however, for the only time in the seven years from 1991 through ’97, he failed to lead the NFL in passing. Jerry Rice caught a career-high 122 passes, placing him one behind the league leader, Detroit’s Herman Moore. He had his tenth consecutive thousand-yard receiving season while setting a league record with 1848 yards (for a per-game average of 115.5 yards; he averaged 15.5 yards per catch). He also reached double figures in touchdown receptions (15) for the seventh straight year and tenth time in 11 seasons. Rice was a consensus 1st team All-NFL selection for the ninth time; he and Young both went to the Pro Bowl.

On the other side, the passing combination of Warren Moon to Cris Carter had a pretty good year, too. The 39-year-old Moon, in his last season with Minnesota, led the league in passing attempts (377) and accumulated 4228 yards (his fourth – and last – NFL 4000-yard passing season) with 33 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. Carter had his second consecutive 122-reception season, tying him with Rice behind Moore, with 1371 yards and a league-leading 17 scoring receptions. Like Young and Rice, they both were Pro Bowl selections.