Steve Young broke open a close game by throwing two of his four touchdown passes in a 17-point third quarter, including one to Rice, and the 49ers beat the Saints 31-20 Sunday night to remain a game behind Atlanta in the NFC West.
But Rice, who finished with three catches after being shut out in a first half for the first time in six years, complained about his lack of involvement.
Rice was sometimes used as the third receiver off the bench when San Francisco went to a two-wideout set that employed J.J. Stokes and Terrell Owens.
"I just work here. If nothing is asked of me, I guess I'm not going to do much," said Rice, in the midst of a comeback season after missing almost all of last year with two serious knee injuries.
"If you ask me if I'm having a good time, no," Rice said. "Is this something that might want to make you retire? Hell, yes. All I know is I'm not having a good time. Maybe it's time for me to move on."
Rice said he was extremely frustrated, but brushed off other questions as he walked out of the locker room.
"Jerry's led the league in receptions," Young said. "I think we shouldn't get overfocused on stats now. Jerry is showing a tremendous amount of maturity. He is leading the league in double coverage, I can assure you."
| Steve Young escapes a letdown vs. the Saints by tossing four TDs after New Orleans led 10-0. (AP) |
San Francisco (8-3) was ahead by one point when Young, who had three first-quarter turnovers, hit a wide-open Garrison Hearst near midfield. Hearst sprinted untouched to complete an 81-yard touchdown play.
Sean Dawkins' second fumble after a catch preceded Young's 8-yard touchdown pass to Rice, putting San Francisco up 28-13 in the third quarter. Wade Richey added a 45-yard field goal.
Young completed 22-of-31 for 290 yards, including a pair of 8-yard scoring passes to Owens in the second quarter that put San Francisco in front after New Orleans had taken a 10-0 lead.
It was a team-record 14th consecutive regular-season home victory for the 49ers, who came back to beat the Saints (5-6) for a sixth consecutive time -- a week after San Francisco's longtime division supremacy was threatened by a loss at Atlanta.
"It's November, December, and we understand we have to finish up strong to put ourselves in the best position that we can," said free safety Merton Hanks, who had one of two interceptions of Kerry Collins, and twice batted down passes in the end zone.
"This was an important win because we were looking for energy. We were looking for a lift."
The 49ers' victory also clinched at least a wild-card playoff berth for Minnesota.
"We cannot play half a game and expect to win, and we didn't play more than a half," New Orleans coach Mike Ditka said. "They're a good football team, and we're not in their class right now."
Collins, in his second start since joining the Saints after being released by Carolina, turned in a solid effort. But it wasn't enough to reverse the Saints' fortunes against San Francisco. He completed 22 of 44 passes for 328 yards and ran for a score.
"It seemed like it was something here, a turnover there, just missed opportunities," Collins said. "We moved the ball effectively. We just didn't capitalize."
New Orleans ended its first possession with Doug Brien's 47-yard field goal on a drive fueled solely by Zack Bronson's 45-yard pass interference penalty for grabbing Dawkins.
After a 22-yard punt return by Andre Hastings, Collins completed a 36-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak for a 10-0 New Orleans lead.
Young, who had an interception and two fumbles in San Francisco's first four series, finally got the offense going after Winfred Tubbs forced Dawkins' first fumble at the end of a 23-yard reception.
The 49ers drove 74 yards, ending with Young's first scoring pass to Owens, who dodged two defenders and bulled hi way past a third at the goal line.
Young put together another drive, again finishing it with a scoring pass to Owens on a quick slant.
Brien kicked his second field goal, a 22-yarder, as time expired in the second quarter and Aaron Craver accounted for New Orleans' final score on a 1-yard run with 1:22 remaining.
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