Contra Costa Times

49ers report card
January 07, 2003
QUARTERBACK: Jeff Garcia notched his first NFL playoff win in heroic fashion, throwing three touchdown passes -- and two two-point conversion passes -- in the final 18 minutes. Just as valuable were his legs as he had seven carries for a team-high 60 yards. Grade: A

RUNNING BACK: Garrison Hearst (six carries, 15 yards) and Kevan Barlow (four carries, 12 yards, one TD) weren't much of a factor because the 49ers were forced to play catch-up with their passing attack. Fullback Fred Beasley was stopped for no gain on second-and-one and fourth-and-one. Grade: C-

RECEIVER: Terrell Owens did it all -- catching two touchdowns and two two-point conversion passes, totaling nine receptions for 177 yards and becoming a vocal leader in the locker room and on the field. Tai Streets made the winning touchdown catch on a 13-yard pass with a minute remaining. Tight end Eric Johnson's 25-yard reception on third down kept alive the winning drive. Grade: A

OFFENSIVE LINE: Superior conditioning helped the 49ers line dominate their Giants opponents down the stretch. Garcia didn't get sacked, further magnifying the phenomenal job right tackle Scott Gragg again did on Giants sack specialist Michael Strahan. Grade: A-

DEFENSIVE LINE: Unable to rattle Giants quarterback Kerry Collins in the first half, the 49ers did better in the second half, highlighted by a third-down sack by John Engelberger and some nice tackles by Dana Stubblefield and Bryant Young. Grade: B-

LINEBACKER: Julian Peterson's athletic prowess resulted in an opening-drive interception, but he let tight end Jeremy Shockey slip by him a couple times. Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich helped shut down the middle of the field in the second half. Grade: B-

DEFENSIVE BACK: Unable to stop Giants receiver Amani Toomer throughout the game, cornerback Ahmed Plummer did come up with a near interception on the Giants' final drive. Free safety Zack Bronson said he felt good in his first game in three months, but "I could tell I hadn't played in a while." Grade: C-

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Jeff Chandler overcame a sprained ankle on his non-kicking leg and fared pretty well. Cedrick Wilson muffed a second quarter punt, but that was somewhat offset when his replacement, Vinny Sutherland, drew a 15-yard penalty against the Giants to help fuel the 49ers rally. Long snapper Brian Jennings looks even more valuable in the wake of the Giants' problems. Grade: B-

COACHING: Steve Mariucci and his staff kept their players focused despite falling behind 24 points. Delivering the 49ers' first playoff win since 1998 should help Mariucci's leverage in contract negotiations. Grade: A

OVERALL: The second-largest comeback victory in NFL playoff history gives the 49ers a huge momentum boost heading into Sunday's divisional playoff game at Tampa Bay. Yes, they stunk for a half, but they played unbelievably well in the half that mattered most. Grade: A

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