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IN MONTANA-YOUNG SOAP OPERA JOE HAD BETTER SUPPORTING CAST

In the long-awaited, overpublicized and epic battle of the quarterbacks, Joe was better than Steve.

The comparison isn't exactly fair, though. Joe had the better supporting cast.That's exactly opposite to what most Monday morning quarterbacks were supposed to be saying today. That was before the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers and conventional wisdom 24-17.

The 49ers were supposed to be a limousine taking on a compact. The only reason the compact was even on the road, supposedly, was that it housed the very engine that used to make the limo go.

It turned out, though, that quarterback Joe Montana's teammates weren't just along for the ride. Some key 49ers were, however.

When a team is missing its starting right guard and right tackle, that's usually understood to be trouble. But who had the time to seriously consider the importance of injuries to the 49ers' Harris Barton and Ralph Tamm when everybody was busy buzzing over Steve vs. Joe?

Their absences meant plenty when linebacker Derrick Thomas blew by right tackle Harry Boatswain for a second-quarter safety that reduced the 49ers' lead to 14-9. Their absences meant even more when left guard Jesse Sapolu and right guard Derrick Deese, replacing Tamm, were hurt in the third quarter.

The 49ers' offense tried functioning the rest of the way with one third-team and two second-team linemen. Its below-average efficiency was reflected in just two touchdowns, four sacks allowed and quarterback Steve Young's unsightly shoulder bruises.

The Chiefs would have been tough to run against were the 49ers' line at full strength. Although they ran for 110 yards, 59 by Ricky Watters, they could not run with enough consistency to set up their passing attack.

"The most important person to stop is Watters," said Chiefs safety Charles Mincy, whose third-quarter interception set up the decisive touchdown.

"If they can't run, they have to throw, and you can lay back and pick which defenses you want to run. If they have the option of running the ball, they're too hard to stop."

That Young threw for 288 yards is no indictment of the Chiefs' defense. Playing the 49ers' offense is like playing the Bulls when they had Michael Jordan.

You conceded Jordan his 40 points but hoped to shut down his cast and prevent him from taking over at crunch time. The Chiefs' defense, with a fierce pass rush and four turnovers, saw to it that Young's damage was mainly statistical.

"They have a lot of power in their offense," Montana said, in awe of his own defense.

"Our guys did a tremendous job. They won the game."

The most important part of Montana's supporting cast, though, was his line. He was sacked just once, when end Richard Dent finally beat left tackle John Alt, who otherwise kept Dent frustrated.

Young had to run for his life. Montana had time to throw two touchdown passes and avoid being intercepted.