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49ers win season opener

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 6, 2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- What seemed like a dud of a season-opening party for the NFL 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 six seconds left, giving the 49ers a 16-13 victory over the Giants.

Cortez also had field goals of 23 and 33 yards, and Garrison Hearst scored on a 9-yard pass for the Niners.

"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."

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

After returning the kickoff to the 30-yard line, the 49ers 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, believing 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 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."

Collins was 28-for-45 for 342 yards, but his three interceptions and some key penalties hurt the Giants. Amani Toomer, who had nine receptions for 134 yards, lost 44 yards on one third-quarter pass because of a holding penalty against left tackle Luke Petitgout, the one returning member of the Giants' revamped offensive line.

San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia finished 16-for-26 for 166 yards. Owens, considered to be one of the best receiver in the league, had only four catches for 41 yards, but he had the big one at the key time.

The Giants took a 6-3 halftime lead on field goals of 29 and 33 yards by Bryant.

San Francisco left three points on the field on its opening series.

An interception by Tony Parrish on the third play and a 16-yard run by Garcia gave the 49ers a first down at the 7. Cortez eventually had a 25-yard field goal blocked by Mike Rosenthal, the Giants 6-foot-7 offensive tackle.

Despite facing first and 25, the Giants went 69 yards in 11 plays on their next series. Collins hit Toomer on consecutive passes of 22 and 14 yards and later found Ike Hilliard for 12.

Bryant, cut on Friday and re-signed just 48 hours before game time when Owen Pochman went on injured reserve with a knee injury, then made his first NFL kick.

A 38-yard third-down pass from Garcia to Eric Johnson and a 19-yard run by Kevan Barlow set up Cortez's tying 23-yard field goal.

Bryant put New York ahead on the final play of the first half with a shaky kick that got just inside the upright.

DOLPHINS: Tackle Brent Smith had reconstructive knee surgery and will miss the season.

Smith had surgery to reconstruct the anterior cruciate ligament and repair a tear in the medial meniscus of his right knee. He was hurt in a preseason game Aug. 24 at Houston.

He also missed last season with an injury to his left knee.

JAGUARS: Defensive end Tony Brackens missed his second straight day of practice and was listed on the injury report as probable.

Brackens has been struggling to overcome an injury to his left knee.

In February, he had surgery to clean up scar tissue in the knee. Doctors found more damage in the knee during that process but did not repair it, at Brackens' request.

The seventh-year veteran missed most practices in training camp. He played in the preseason finale against Dallas Aug. 29. He practiced on Tuesday, but was sore, and the soreness and swelling didn't go away during the next two days.

Coach Tom Coughlin said Brackens likely would be on a limited practice schedule all season, but he expects Brackens to play Sunday against Indianapolis.

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