The San Francisco 49ers' new leader, Tim Rattay, in his second NFL start, continued as a big-play quarterback Monday night with possibly the 49ers' longest-ever series of well-placed long and short passes except for some of John Brodie's long ago.

To be sure, as critics said after Rattay's first start two weeks back when he lifted up the then 3-5 49ers, he hasn't been hit yet. Quarterbacks who have are different from those who haven't, more skittish, less poised. Still, Rattay is starting out as a big-pass wonder.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, who fell, 30-14, are a passing team now too.

And their passer, Tommy Maddox, kept them in the game for awhile.

But the Steelers have only been airing it out in this century. Through the 1990s, as coached by an old conservative, Bill Cowher, they were a traditional run-the-ball-stop-the-run team — playing a role they have famously played going back to their Super Bowl days and before. They looked like a passing team that doesn't practice passing enough, doesn't quite get the hang.

The 49ers by contrast converted to passing under their 1980s coach, Bill Walsh, and seemed accordingly much more polished, particularly with Rattay, whose six misses on a 21-for-27 passing night were mostly all throwaways. He's now played two big games, two for two. The 49ers, maybe, are coming.

New Passer Is a New Kind of 49er

49ER POSTSCRIPT: The West Coast offense, which has spread from the 49ers to much of football, college and pro, began with Bill Walsh's first quarterback in 1981, Joe Montana. At the time, Walsh was a full-service passing coach who tailored his repertoire to the short-pass West Coast system because Montana was more comfortable and more accurate throwing short than long.

Though Walsh's next quarterback, Steve Young, was a good long passer, the 49ers continued in the West Coast because it worked so successfully under offensive coordinators like Mike Shanahan, who went on to win two Super Bowls at Denver. The 49ers' most recent quarterback, Jeff Garcia, now injured, is a West Coast type like Montana, meaning that he can effectively play ball-control football with short passes.

Tim Rattay is something new in San Francisco, a bomber, potentially, with a knack for throwing long passes on target and on time, with some touch, though he rises only about six feet, and scales no more than 200. Nor has he been hit yet.

Cowboys vs. Carolina: It's a Big One

THE 7-3 DALLAS COWBOYS, who will be home to 8-2 Carolina next Sunday in the Game of the Week, restricted hard-driving New England to a single touchdown in Sunday night's Week 11 headliner — on the Patriots' field.

Though in the end Dallas was blanked, 12-0, young quarterback Quincy Carter held his own in yards gained passing with the Patriots' Super Bowl quarterback, Tom Brady. And on defense, the Cowboys were similarly stout. Statistically, they excelled the 8-2 Patriots.

This suggests that in the Cowboys' collision with Carolina, they'll be a handful.

It will hardly be an upset, though, if Dallas loses again in another close game.

One way to look at the Carolina Panthers is to count their wins over good teams this year. They were the first to expose Tampa Bay. They surprised New Orleans. They won at Indianapolis. They proved they could beat New Orleans twice — and Tampa twice — and the truth is that slumping Tampa would be leading the division if it had only won from Carolina.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme has made the Panthers a sound, well-balanced team. In the media Age of Personalities, his running back, Stephen Davis, got the final touchdown and the credit for edging Washington this week, 20-17, but Delhomme's 317 passing yards won the game.

Nine Kansas City Wins Monumental

THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS' setback Sunday wasn't a momentous happening. In pro football's Age of Parity, it had to happen someday. The momentous thing was their season-opening nine-game winning streak going into Cincinnati, where new coach Marvin Lewis has improved the 5-5 Bengals so rapidly that after a 1-4 start, they're now the leading candidate for best in the NFC South.