The Big Play

The situation: One minute, 44 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, the Jets leading 15-14, and the 49ers facing a first-and-10 play at the San Francisco 35-yard line.

The 49ers, after their previous two drives of the fourth quarter both bogged down after mistakes, got another chance to drive for the winning points after the San Francisco defense forced a punt and New York's Toby Gowin's kick went only 27 yards.

That set up the Niners in solid field position, needing only 35 yards or so to get in position for a possible field goal by Todd Peterson.

"All we needed was a field goal to win it," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said.

They never got that chance.

On first down, quarterback Tim Rattay dropped back to pass, looking over the middle for tight end Eric Johnson, who was covered.

As the pocket collapsed around him, Rattay looked to unload the ball quickly to one of his outlet options, in this case, halfback Terry Jackson.

But Jackson was not there. New York rookie linebacker Jonathan Vilma was.

"(Rattay) had pressure," Erickson said. "We were trying to run the option route with Eric Johnson inside. They covered him. And Tim thought there was a check down there (with Jackson), and obviously there wasn't. He didn't see the guy, obviously."

Rattay threw quickly as he turned to his right, expecting Jackson to be in the short flat. Instead, he zipped the ball directly into the hands of Vilma, who had crept up past the line of scrimmage. Vilma returned the pick to the San Francisco 20 before he was dragged out of bounds by Jackson.

Four Curtis Martin rushes later, the Jets were in the end zone with the game-clinching touchdown.

Niners Digest Top Stories