The San Francisco 49ers didn't need Steve Young, or Jerry Rice for that matter, to get back into Super Bowl form.
Four interceptions of Chris Miller, two of them returned for touchdowns by Ken Norton Jr., was more than enough Sunday in a 44-10 wipeout of St. Louis that pulled the 49ers into a tie with the Rams for the NFC West lead."You have certain days where you can't do anything wrong," Norton said. "It was one of those days today. No question about it, we wanted to come out and make a statement."
Two of the interceptions came in the first 4:14 as the defending Super Bowl champions, who entered the game having lost two of their previous three, beat up on a familiar patsy with Elvis Grbac at the controls instead of Young. San Francisco has 10 consecutive victories over the Rams and this one was the Rams' worst loss since 1987.
"The old 49ers are back," 49ers running back William Floyd said.
Miller was pressured into a nightmarish afternoon. Besides Norton's returns of 21 and 35 yards, Miller put one right in the gut of tackle Dana Stubblefield.
Miller, who had three interceptions in the first six games, was yanked in favor of Mark Rypien with the 49ers ahead 37-3 and 11:19 left in the third quarter. He was the last player out of the shower in the Rams' locker room, but then he took the heat for the turnovers, which produced 28 points for the 49ers.
"I had an awful day, I'm not going to sugercoat it," said Miller, who was 8-for-22 for 141 yards. "I made some poor decisions early, made a lot of them often, all day."
But he noted the Rams, who like the 49ers are 5-2, have already exceeded last season's victory total.
Elvis Grbac replaced Young, who's out for a month with a shoulder injury, and made his first career start one to remember going 11-for-14 for 114 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. Most of the time the 49ers kept the ball on the ground, but Grbac's first pass - and San Francisco's first play - was a 35-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor.
"I knew if I could get the ball out of my hand and into the hands of the other guys, they could make the plays and that's what happened," Grbac said.
Rice had a pretty quiet afternoon, at least for him. He needed 94 yards to surpass James Lofton, who was in attendance, for the career yardage record, but got just 21 yards on two catches.
However, his first catch was a 4-yard touchdown reception from Grbac with 4:08 left in the first half that put San Francisco ahead 24-3. He also ran untouched on a 20-yard reverse for another touchdown in the third quarter and caught a conversion pass.
On the Rams' first series Miller was sacked by Rickey Jackson, then intercepted to Dedrick Dodge. Then on Grbac's first snap as a starter, he rolled to his right and lofted a 35-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor.
On the Rams' second series, a scrambling Miller threw behind tight end Troy Drayton on third-and-18 and the ball went right to Norton, who made it 14-0 with 10:46 remaining in the first quarter.
It was a perfect day for the 49ers except for the stat sheet, which showed that the Rams outgained them 355 yards to 257. Even Young said his shoulder was feeling better.
"You've got to believe it can heal faster," Young said. "The doctor tells you something and you try to go out and beat it."