The Big Play

The situation: One minute, three seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Redskins leading 16-9, and the 49ers facing a third-and-8 play from the Washington 23-yard line.

The 49ers had just vaulted back into the game after forcing the Redskins to a three-and-out deep in their own territory. On the ensuing punt, Niners' rookie Keith Lewis bowled over up-back Todd Franz and blocked Tom Tupa's kick.

The ball rolled back into the Washington end zone and Tupa scooted after it and kicked it past the end line for a safety that brought the 49ers back within a touchdown. And San Francisco would be getting the ball back again in good field position with plenty of time to score again before halftime.

Jimmy Williams returned Tupa's ensuing free kick 15 yards to set up the Niners at their own 48-yard line, and a 16-yard catch-and-run by Maurice Hicks took the Niners to the Washington 36 at the two-minute warning.

On a third-and-12 play that followed, quarterback Ken Dorsey connected with receiver Brandon Lloyd for a 13-yard gain that extended the drive. Two plays later, the 49ers faced third-and-long again.

This time, the results were disastrous.

Dorsey set up in the pocket as the Redskins brought a heavy rush. He looked right for his first read to Lloyd, who was covered. As the pressure got to him, Dorsey unloaded a pass quickly over the middle, looking for receiver Cedrick Wilson.

He found Washington linebacker Antonio Pierce instead.

"I think I just mis-saw it," Dorsey said. "I thought Ced was going to be able to get in front of him, and the linebacker jumped in front. He collisioned (Wilson), and I misread the play. If you start outside, you just can't go back inside late like that. In that case, I was trying to make a play out of nothing. I just can't do that to the team. It was a big turnover, no way around it."

Seconds later, Pierce was rolling around the left side on his way to the other end zone.

Pierce, the ball thrown right into his chest, broke a tackle attempt from 49ers right tackle Scott Gragg as he turned the corner, received a block that cleared Dorsey out of the way, then rambled 78 yards into the end zone for a stunning turnaround touchdown.

"Seventy-eight yards?" Pierce said. "Man, no wonder I was so tired near the end of the run. I've got to give credit to my teammates on that one. They got in some great blocks. We do an interception drill and everybody knows they've got to get after somebody. Everybody has to lay a block, and we sure did on that play. The ball came right to me and I just took off."

The 49ers' hopes of victory went with him. Instead of getting a touchdown or a field goal to tie or narrow the score, the Niners suddenly found themselves trailing 23-9 at halftime, leaving the second half as a mere formality with the way San Francisco was playing on offense.

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