49ers elude Giants' grasp

Posted: Friday, September 06, 2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. w-- What seemed like a dud of a season-opening party for the NFL actually turned into a thriller.

A seemingly invisible Terrell Owens made a 33-yard catch and run to set up Jose Cortez's 36-yard field goal with :06 to play, giving the San Francisco 49ers a 16-13 victory over the New York Giants in a special Thursday night opener that ushered in the season.

Cortez also had field goals of 23 and 33 yards and Garrison Hearst scored on a 9-yard pass for the Niners in the game that featured more mistakes than good plays.

''It took us the whole game to get going, but we won,'' San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci said. ''Can you call this game ugly? I guess you could say that.''

It was also a great game to watch in the final minutes, capping an opening that that started with a concert in the heart of New York City, an event meant to honor those killed in the terrorist attacks last Sept. 11.

A blown coverage on Owens' catch actually led to the game-winning score, which came right after Tiki Barber tied the game with a 1-yard TD run with 1:49 to go.

After returning the kickoff to the 30-yard line, the 49ers knew what to do with the game on the line. They went to Owens, who until that point had three catches for 8 yards.

''That's what I like, when the going gets tough and it's time for me to make a play, then that's what I am going to do,'' Owens said. ''Big players make big plays.''

Owens ran by Jason Sehorn on the play and the Giants cornerback let him go, thinking he had help. He didn't get it.

Owens caught the ball and wasn't tackled until he reached the New York 37. A 12-yard pass to J.J. Stokes got the ball to the 25, and Garrison Hearst's 7-yard run set up Cortez, who earlier had a 25-yarder blocked and was short from 48.

This one was down the middle.

''After having a field goal blocked and missing another one, I was just glad I came back and won the game,'' said Cortez, who played one game with the Giants in 1999.

Rookie Matt Bryant made field goals of 29 and 33 yards for the Giants, who turned the ball over three times, had 80 yards in penalties and one bad punt that led to the 49ers' touchdown.

''Despite all the mistakes, we still should have won this game,'' said defensive end Michael Strahan, who was held without a sack. ''Hopefully, we will learn from this. At the end of the season, we will look back at this as a game we should have won.''

The NFL ushered in this season with a special midweek start that included a Manhattan concert. The league said it was celebrating New York's resilience in the wake of the terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people.

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