Last week quarterback Steve Young said the San Francisco 49ers had something to gain in their Christmas matchup against the Houston Oilers - a playoff edge.

However, the way the 49ers succumbed to the Oilers, 10-7, it looked as if they already were on edge, especially at quarterback.If that game were indeed a preview of playoff competition, as Young said, then it raised a haunting question: Can Young take the 49ers to a Super Bowl?

He certainly plays well during midseason, especially when healthy. With only next Monday night's game against Philadelphia on the regular-season schedule, Young is in line to become the only quarterback ever to win the NFL passing title three consecutive years.

But that has never been confused with a Lombardi Trophy, which only goes to Super Bowl champions. And to get to a Super Bowl, the 49ers must win two playoff games.

As Young predicted, the Oilers did indeed set a very playoff-like stage, with a pressurized defense that used all manner of blitzes. And Young's response was indeed reminiscent of his previous two playoff games with the 49ers.

Against the Oilers, Young threw two interceptions in the end zone, one on an underthrown ball and another on a poorly read defense. He also fumbled to set up a touchdown.

After making the playoffs last season as the NFL's Player of the Year, Young had six turnovers in two games. First he lost three fumbles and threw an interception in a 20-13 victory over Washington. Then he threw two interceptions in a 30-20 loss to Dallas in the NFC Championship Game.

There is something other than the turnovers that was obvious in all of those games. Young was not under control. Earlier this season, Young himself said he fights a constant battle to find the fine line between being revved and over-revved.

"I admit I do get excited in games and that's good as long as you can stay in control," Young said. "There is a fine line there, but I think I am mature enough now to know where that line is."

Young is a great runner who has been criticized in the past for thinking run first and pass second. By the middle of this season it seemed he had made that problem history.

"It was just a matter of the offense becoming second nature so I could do things more intuitively," Young explained. "I think I have reached a level now where this passing game is second nature to me."

That was easy to say and do during the middle of the season when the 49ers and Young made a dramatic comeback from a 3-3 start to clinch the NFC West championship.

In the playoffs the 49ers always talk about "turning it up." That may be something Young should not consider. His normal tempo is "up" enough.

In the two playoff games last season and again against the Oilers, Young did not appear to be in control.

Admittedly, the Oilers were putting pressure on him with those blitzes. But he talked about being ready for those blitzes days before the game, then when he did see them he seemed to overreact. Many times he could have thrown the ball, but reverted to moving around on those quick feet instead.

"There were a lot of plays when it would have been nice if Steve would have thrown the ball because he did have the time," said offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick. "But he felt hurried and I don't think he was really hurried."

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It was while apparently feeling hurried that Young threw off balance and behind wide receiver Jerry Rice in the end zone Saturday. The ball was intercepted.

Another time Young rushed a pass without making a good read. He believed a cornerback was on Rice, but instead that corner backpedaled and picked up tight end Brent Jones in the end zone. Young threw to Jones anyway and the cornerback intercepted.

These are mistakes anybody could make. But Young seems to make more of them when it is time to "turn it up."

So as the 49ers prepare for their last regular-season game, maybe they should consider taking the edge off their quarterback. Maybe that will help them gain a playoff edge.

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