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POLLARD SURVIVES TRIAL BY FIRE - JUST BARELY

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Cornerback Darryl Pollard has been getting a lot of playing time in the 49ers' shorthanded secondary this season, and it's been a learning experience.

Last Sunday, for example, the former Weber State player was beaten badly three times before 75,000 49er fans who have become accustomed to a stingy secondary.Starting the game without injured free safety Ronnie Lott and insubordinate cornerback Tim McKyer, the 49ers' plight grew even worse when safety Jeff Fuller suffered a season-ending neck injury on the second play of the game.

The result was that veteran Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan repeatedly burned the Niners secondary - actually, he repeatedly burned Pollard - culminating in a TD pass to Stanley Morgan that tied the game late in the third quarter.

What made it worse was that Pollard had already been burned on a 55-yarder to Morgan and a 52-yarder to Irving Fryar.

49er Coach George Seifert pulled Pollard after the Morgan touchdown but put him back in later in the third quarter.

He almost regretted it. On a Patriot field-goal attempt at the S.F. 38, Pollard was flagged for roughing the kicker.

"I was supposed to try to block the kick from the side," Pollard said. "I slowed down but got pushed from behind and kinda bounced into (the kicker). The referee never saw me get pushed. And the kicker . . . he did a great job of acting."

But then came Pollard's redemption. On third-and-14 from the 27, Pollard stepped in front of a Grogan pass for a 12-yard interception.

"I knew I had to turn things around," Pollard said. "You just don't let (the mistakes) get to you. You never let up. You've got to play and play to win. That felt good."

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DISCHARGED CHARGER: Jim McMahon is headed for the bench. Chargers' Coach Dan Henning announced this week that McMahon would not start this week against the Seahawks in Seattle, allegedly to spare his sore shoulder the shock of being bounced around artificial turf.

Henning also said he wants to get a look at rookie quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver of Texas Tech.

But the real reason is that Henning is upset with McMahon's stepping out of the pocket early and throwing the ball early to protect his battered body.

After last Sunday's game against the Giants, several opponents suggested that the normally feisty McMahon had looked a little gun-shy.

"Their quarterback today was more worried about getting hit than getting the ball to a receiver," Giants' linebacker Lawrence Taylor said. "He's a gutsy player, but it's a different type of Jim McMahon now."

Henning agreed.

"I didn't think that Jim played as good a game as he's played in some of the others," the coach said. "He got out of there (the pocket) a couple of times a little earlier than I would have liked to have seen him get out. And he might have been subconsciously thinking about taking a hit on that (left) shoulder.

"A little bit of that could have been his body speaking to him. That doesn't seem to be in his make-up on a conscious level. It's just the fact that he is banged up."

McMahon, who also had a sore ankle and knee, completed only 12 of 27 passes for 133 yards, with one interception.

OUT OF THE BULLPEN: S.F.'s Steve Young, again filling in for an injured Joe Montana, completed 11-of-12 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns Sunday to beat the Patriots. The week before, Young played the entire game in a win against Dallas. And unless Montana makes a miraculous recovery, Young will start this Sunday against the Jets.

So does Young enjoy his role as designated reliever for arguably the best quarterback in the NFL?

Nope.

"I'm a lousy backup," he says. "I complain too much. I get way too frustrated. I hate the word. It drives me crazy.

"Other than that, I'm OK."

*****

SHORT STUFF: The Chargers have activated tight end Andy Parker, a former Ute who played with the Raiders last season . . . Former BYU star Marc Wilson is now the Patriots' No. 2 quarterback, after starting the season as the No. 4 man . . . Phoenix's Vai Sikahema is the NFC's No. 2 punt returner at 12.6 yards per return.