49ers Year-by-Year: 1998

What follows is a recap of the 49ers' 1998 season. It was a fun season, if you don't count all the broken legs.

Date:

Opponent:

Score:

Record:

Opponent's Record:

Sept. 6

New York Jets

W: 30-36

1-0

0-1

Sept. 14

@ Washington Redskins

W: 45-10

2-0

0-2

Sept. 27

Atlanta Falcons

W: 20-31

3-0

2-1

Oct. 4

@ Buffalo Bills

L: 21-26

3-1

1-3

Oct. 11

@ New Orleans Saints

W: 31-0

4-1

3-2

Oct. 18

Indianapolis Colts

W: 31-34

5-1

1-6

Oct. 25

@ St. Louis Rams

W: 28-10

6-1

2-5

Nov. 1

@ Green Bay Packers

L: 22-36

6-2

6-2

Nov. 8

Carolina Panthers

W: W: 23-25

7-2

1-8

Nov. 15

@ Atlanta Falcons

L: 19-31

7-3

8-2

Nov. 22

New Orleans Saints

W: 20-31

8-3

5-6

Nov. 30

New York Giants

W: 7-31

9-3

4-8

Dec. 6

@ Carolina Panthers

W: 31-28

10-3

2-11

Dec. 14

Detroit Lions

W: 13-35

11-3

5-9

Dec. 20

@ New England Patriots

L: 21-24

11-4

9-6

Dec. 27

St. Louis Rams

W: 19-38

12-4

4-12

Playoffs:

Jan. 3

Green Bay Packers

W: 27-30

13-4

11-6

Jan. 9

@ Atlanta Falcons

L: 18-20

13-5

15-2


Head Coach:
Steve Mariucci

Key Losses: TE Brent Jones, DT Dana Stubblefield, LB Gary Plummer, DB Rod Woodson, C/G Jesse Sapolu

Key Additions: LB Winfred Tubbs, FB Fred Beasley, G/T Dave Fiore, DB Lance Schulters, C Jeremy Newberry

Going into the 1998 season, the 49ers and their fans were still stinging from yet another postseason loss to the Green Bay Packers. More than that, the 49ers had lost the Packers four times in a row, with Steve Young being 0-7 against Green Bay all on his own. There was something familiar about the taste of that kind of frustration coming against one team - twice in their history, the 49ers had faced similar stretches against the Cowboys.

But where the 49ers had ultimately put a target on the Cowboys' backs and taken careful by splurging in free agency on players like Deion Sanders and Ken Norton, Jr., they made no such desperate run at the Packers. If San Francisco was going to beat Green Bay, it would be with the same core group of players that had lost to them so consistently over the last few years.

On the bright side for the 49ers, though, they entered the season healthy. 1997 had been a trial, as Jerry Rice had missed virtually the entire season to injury and Steve Young had been battered, playing through multiple injuries including concussions. And just as good as having a healthy roster, San Francisco had finally found its running back. After years of trying unsuccessfully to replace Rickey Watters, Garrison Hearst had proven that he could be effective enough to take pressure off of Young, Rice, and the rest of the passing game.

And when the first game of the season rolled around and the Jets came to town, Hearst made an immediate statement to prove his worth. After Steve Young and Glenn Foley exchanged blows for four quarters to bring the game to a 30-30 tie, Hearst took overtime into his own hands. Following a Jets punt that trapped the 49ers at their own four-yard line, Hearst took a handoff off right tackle, broke a tackle, fended off another defender, and raced 96 yards to the finish line to end the game with the longest run from scrimmage in San Francisco franchise history.

If the Packers had the 49ers' number, the 49ers' had the Redskins number. And having beaten Washington seven times in a row, San Francisco made it an easy eight against Gus Frerotte and Norv Turner's Redskins. After beating Atlanta handily following the bye week and losing a mistake-ridden game at Buffalo a week after that, the 49ers were 3-1 and looking forward to three pushovers before traveling to Green Bay to take on their biggest current rival.

That stretch of games was barely a blip on the radar as the 49ers coasted to 6-1. In the process, Jerry Rice tied and broke Art Monk's NFL record of 182 consecutive games with a reception.

And then the 49ers were in Green Bay to face the Packers at Lambeau Field. The game was not pretty. Right from the outset, the Packers asserted their dominance, putting Young on the ground time and time again - ultimately nine times on the day - and jumping out to a 16-0 lead. Then, the tide began to turn. First Young and Rive connected for a touchdown that set the NFL record for touchdowns between a QB/WR pair. Then, the 49ers took advantage of three Favre interceptions to actually pull ahead by the end of the third quarter. As long as Favre was giving the ball away, the 49ers had a chance. But in the fourth quarter, he stopped. The Packers regained the lead, and when Steve Young later fumbled the ball, it was all Green Bay needed to ice the game. After five consecutive losses to the Packers, even Jerry Rice said, "I'm tired of losing to the Packers."

After that beating, Young missed the next game with an abdominal strain. The 49ers were still able to salvage a win behind backup Ty Detmer. A loss at Atlanta a week later put the 49ers behind the Falcons in the division, and with Atlanta beating everybody who looked at them that season, that's just where they would stay. And even ripping off wins in the next four games, there was a dark cloud hanging over the second place team.

First came the rumblings from Jerry Rice - he wasn't getting the ball enough, and resented having to come in as the slot receiver behind both Terrell Owens and J.J. Stokes in certain formations. Then came the injury to Bryant Young. On a brutal accidental collision with Ken Norton, Jr., in which replays showed Young's leg visibly bending backward before snapping.

Then came former 49er coordinator Pete Carroll and his New England Patriots. Behind backup Scott Zolak, the Patriots beat the 49ers on a fourth quarter comeback that ended San Francisco's hopes to win the division. The only solace in beating the Rams was that it would ensure that when the 49ers played the Packers in the playoffs, it would be at Candlestick.

But as that game rolled around, the 49ers were far from a popular pick. Having lost five times in a row to the Packers, including a convincing loss once already this season, missing Bryant Young on the defensive line, and taking shots for riding one of the league's easiest schedules into the playoffs, the 49ers were given little change to defeat their rivals.

But at home, the 49ers proved that they got to the playoffs for a reason. The first three and a half quarters were a grinding battle, as the two teams exchanged leads, matching each other blow for blow, neither team ever trailing by more than seven. Then the Packers tied the game in the fourth quarter on a Ryan Longwell field goal. The 49ers answered with a field goal of their own. With a 23-20 lead and the clock winding down, it looked as though the 49ers might have their first victory against the Packers in more than two years.

But it wouldn't be that easy. Brett Favre took the Packers all the way down the field and stole a four point lead with a 15 yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman. The blow should have been crushing. After what had seemed to be a likely victory, the 49ers were staring at what was almost assuredly a loss. With maybe enough time for one drive, San Francisco got the ball back.

Young answered Favre, marching the 49ers downfield efficiently. Controversy arose when Jerry Rice appeared to fumble the football, but the officials ruled that his knee was down before the ball came out and the play was dead. Replays would show this to be false, but without an instant replay system, the call was final.

Then, in the last minute the 49ers found themselves at the Packers' 25-yard line. Only a touchdown could win the game. As Young dropped back on the final play of the game, his back foot slipped out from underneath him. He stumbled, nearly lost his balance, regained his composure just long enough to look downfield, and fired the football into a sea of green and yellow.

The only red jersey anywhere near the play came down with the pass in the endzone. Terrell Owens' last second reception was quickly dubbed "The Catch II" (but hey, call it "The Throw"). The 49ers had beaten the Packers. Steve Mariucci found Owens and embraced his tearful receiver in celebration of the emotional moment.

But the momentum wouldn't carry. Playing the Falcons for the third time that season, the 49ers suffered one crushing loss on the first play of the game, and didn't recover for the duration. After taking a handoff from Steve Young to open the game, Garrison Hearst's ankle caught in the Atlanta turf, breaking his leg. The 49ers offense wasn't the same without him, and the Falcons were too good to beat undermanned.

Even after getting record setting seasons from Steve Young and Jerry Rice; even after getting the Green Bay monkey off of their backs, the 49ers couldn't advance past the second round of the playoffs. And with that, the 1998 season ended in a loss.

Primary Sources:

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/sfo/1998.htm
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/jan/10/sports/sp-62290?pg=2
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/sep/07/sports/sp-20427
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/sep/15/sports/sp-22877
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/oct/05/sports/sp-29562
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/oct/19/sports/sp-34134
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/oct/26/sports/sp-36387
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/nov/02/sports/sp-38659?pg=2
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/nov/09/sports/sp-41022
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/nov/16/sports/sp-43439
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/dec/01/sports/sp-49517
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/dec/21/sports/sp-56303
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/jan/04/sports/sp-60289?pg=2
http://articles.latimes.com/1999/jan/10/sports/sp-62330

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