Sonny Jurgensen, once a Redskin quarterback of note, stood near a catwalk above the stands as Jay Schroeder, a future Redskin quarterback of note, pranced into the cool mist that enveloped RFK Stadium Sunday. "There's no question the Redskins are better off with Schroeder," Jurgensen said. "Joe Theismann was having a bad year anyway. Schroeder's passes don't spend much time in the air. He's got the gun. He beat two good teams. But today is another day." Jurgensen didn't look across the field, where the 49ers were spilling forth from their locker room. He didn't have to look to know what was coming. "Today," he said, "Jay Schroeder will meet the world champions."
Schroeder was anxious to play. Walter Mitty had never had it so good. Since taking over for the injured Theismann on Nov. 18 Schroeder had been living a fantasy, directing Washington to wins over the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had barely been stained in the process. He hadn't been sacked and had shown that he could throw the ball over the moon. But his reverie would soon end.
The 49ers showed Schroeder and 51,321 zealots at RFK why they are the world champions, and why the Redskins are not. The Niners (8-5) beat the Skins 35-8, for their fifth win in six games, setting up a showdown with the NFC Western Division-leading, free-falling Los Angeles Rams (9-4) this Monday night at Candlestick Park. Schroeder proved he will one day be a quarterback to be reckoned with by throwing for 348 yards, outgaining a curiously absent 49er offense by 124 yards. But though Schroeder completed 30 of 58 passes against San Francisco, the Niners didn't allow him to throw a touchdown pass, sacked him four times and forced him into two fumbles and two interceptions. There are a lot of ways to win a football game and, in their competitive hearts, the talented, rallying 49ers know most of them.
Carl Monroe, for example, returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a TD. The 49er defense, reverting to its impenetrable form of 1984, turned back the Redskins inside the San Francisco 20 three times in the first half, allowing but two Mark Moseley field goals. Late in the first half linebacker Keena Turner returned Schroeder's first fumble, the result of a blind-side hit by safety Jeff Fuller, 65 yards for a TD, and San Francisco took a comfortable 21-8 lead into the locker room. There the Niners learned that the Rams had been beaten 29-3 by New Orleans. San Francisco had come a far piece since being 3-4 to the Rams' 7-0, four games out with nine to play.
"The first six games of the season are won on execution," said Niner safety Ronnie Lott. "And we weren't executing. But then, as the season goes on, things start to jell. The good teams begin to hit things. The talent comes out."
From the opening Redskin series, two incompletions and a sack, that talent was all over Schroeder. Said Niner corner-back Eric Wright, "Schroeder can fire it. But our rush got the push on him, put him on his back a couple of times, and he started short-arming it."
Passing the ball 58 times on the 49ers is inviting trouble in the first place, since their secondary boasts four Pro Bowlers. "If we make 'em pass," said Lott, "then they're playing our game. You throw it 50 times, you know we're going to get our share." Dwight Hicks and Lott intercepted Schroeder. "When we stop the run, we can beat anybody," said Lott. "We have been stopping the run ever since we got the Big One back from his injury."
The 49ers' hard turn for home began on Oct. 27, when they manhandled the Rams in Anaheim. In that game, nose-tackle Michael Carter—the Big One—came back from a torn hamstring that had sidelined him for four games. Since his return the Niner defense has twisted the screws deep into the wood. It has not allowed a touchdown in the last 14 quarters.
"We got beat because we couldn't run on first down against their basic 3-4," said Redskin center Rick Donnalley. "The scheme they play allows Carter to gamble." The 6'2", 285-pound Carter had six tackles and stuck the Redskin running backs for losses twice. He made a shambles of the Redskins' feared inside-rushing series. Carter also knocked down a pass and forced Schroeder's second fumble with a sack that sent the second-year quarterback from UCLA directly into Niners defensive end Jeff Stover, who jarred the ball away and recovered it. That turnover led to a four-yard Wendell Tyler touchdown with 9:45 remaining in the third quarter.
Niner quarterback Joe Montana, who has been discombobulated by the new-wave blitzing he has seen this season, was 11 of 22 for 119 yards against Washington. In the second quarter he was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, a penalty that brings with it an automatic safety. "Everybody expects Joe to improvise, but they've taken that away with blitzes," said Lott. "Teams have exploited us with the blitz." Later in the second quarter, though, Montana did catch the Redskins in a blitz, changing a rushing-play call to a post to Freddie Solomon and hitting it for 39 yards to the Redskin one. From there Tyler scored the Niners' second TD, which was all San Francisco needed this day.
And as the Niners headed home, offensive lineman Randy Cross put the team in perfect perspective: "That pitter-patter of our feet that the Rams have been hearing has become thunder."