SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Terrell Owens had been ordinary so far this
season, with drops, distractions and double coverages all
conspiring against one of football's most exciting players.
Under the prime-time spotlight, Owens finally broke free with
one spectacular play after another -- perhaps because the San
Francisco 49ers' All-Pro receiver knew all eyes were on him.
Owens had a 61-yard touchdown catch among his eight receptions
for 155 yards, and Tim Rattay went 21-of-27 for 254 yards in the
49ers' 30-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.
"They're giving me the opportunity to make some plays," Owens
said. "The first half of the season, I was really putting pressure
on myself. I dropped some passes and I wasn't playing T.O.-like.
That was when we went on a losing skid, and I was just trying to do
Helped by two superb downfield blocks by Owens, Kevan Barlow
rushed for a 78-yard score in the third quarter to break open San
Francisco's fourth straight home victory. While Barlow's teammates
mobbed him in the end zone, Owens strutted back to the sideline
with his swagger that's growing as quickly as the 49ers' playoff
"T.O., he played really, really well," 49ers coach Dennis
Erickson said. "The block he made on Kevan Barlow's run might be
the most impressive thing I've ever seen him do, and he's made some
In the teams' first meeting since a rain-soaked game at
Candlestick Park in 1999, San Francisco (5-5) dominated the matchup
of defending division champions who have struggled this season.
Fully aware of the national audience for his talents, the
would-be actor and basketball star got San Francisco started with
one of the big plays he has provided only sparingly this fall.
On the third play of the Niners' second drive, Rattay lofted a
perfect pass down the left sideline. Owens accelerated away from
cornerback Chad Scott, stopped at the goal line and did a slow
pirouette into the end zone before breaking into a dance.
"He's so big and strong that when they have to single him, it's
a mismatch," Rattay said. "We did a good job calling plays for
Fullback Fred Beasley also caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from
Rattay, who added more spice to the 49ers' quarterback controversy
with a second straight near-flawless performance in place of
injured Pro Bowl player Jeff Garcia.
"It ultimately comes down to Jeff's health," Rattay said. "If
he's healthy, he'll go. I love to play, I love to be out there, but
right now, my role is the backup."
Tommy Maddox was 25-of-44 for 327 yards for Pittsburgh (3-7),
which lost its sixth in seven games thanks to key defensive errors
and Antwaan Randle El's fumble on a kickoff return, which allowed
San Francisco to score two touchdowns in 14 seconds.
"All night, we were an inch away here and an inch away there
from converting some real big plays," Maddox said. "It's
frustrating to know that we were moving the ball, then we start to
hurt ourselves. We just aren't making the plays."
The Steelers periodically moved the ball well with inventive
play-calling -- but at other times, their execution was equally
inventive. Pittsburgh made too many small mistakes, including a
7-yard loss on a pass by Randle El and a 10-yard setback on a
Randle El had a 32-yard TD catch in the fourth. Though
Pittsburgh is in one of the most dismal stretches of coach Bill
Cowher's 12 seasons, the Steelers still are just two games out of
first place in the AFC North.
"We hurt ourselves with our mistakes, and we also gave up too
many big plays," Randle El said. "That is tough to overcome. This
is a big loss, but we'll bounce back."
Niners safety Tony Parrish intercepted a tipped pass early in
the second quarter and returned it 48 yards, setting up a 32-yard
After gaining just 125 yards in the first half, Pittsburgh made
a 79-yard drive to open the third quarter. Jerome Bettis scored on
a 1-yard plunge to pull the Steelers within 10-7.
But after Owens paved Barlow's way to the end zone, Randle El
fumbled the ensuing kickoff -- and on the next play, Rattay made
another perfect throw down the sideline to Beasley. The fullback
made a tough catch and dove across the goal line to give San
Francisco a 24-7 lead.
Former Steelers kicker Todd Peterson also made three field goals
for the Niners.Game notes
Barlow was held out of the fourth quarter with a
concussion, though he remained on the 49ers' sideline. ... Chicago
Cubs manager Dusty Baker attended with 4-year-old former batboy son
Darren, who watched his first live football game. "I like when
they make the touchdown," the boy said. ... "Alias" actress
Jennifer Garner came by to meet the Baker family, hollering, "Are
you ready for some football?" as she met little Darren. ...
Pittsburgh WR Hines Ward left in the third quarter after hitting
his head on the turf while dropping a pass, but he eventually
returned. He had four catches for 44 yards.
- Ed Hochuli