Contra Costa Times

Pressure nothing new
January 12, 2003
49ers to face NFL's top defense

By Cam Inman

TAMPA, Fla. - A mysterious twist has been added to today's supposed mismatch between the 49ers' inconsistent offense and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' touted defense in an NFC divisional playoff game.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia apparently is sick and was absent from the 49ers' walk-through practice at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday.

"We kept him back at the hotel. He needed a little rest," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. "He's getting a cold, that sort of thing. We talked about him taking a nap. He doesn't work Saturdays, anyway. That's (backup quarterback Tim Rattay's) day, so to drive in a bus for a half hour wasn't in his best interest. He'll be fine. He'll be OK."

Said left tackle Derrick Deese: "He's played through a lot worse. Earlier this year, everybody played through the worst stomach virus you could have had. A little cold is not going to stop him."

A team-wide stomach virus forced Garcia to sit out most of the second half of a Sept. 22 win over the Washington Redskins. He has started 55 consecutive games, including two playoff appearances.

Asked if he expects Garcia to play today, Deese replied: "Oh yeah. He better."

Garcia will offer the 49ers their best chance of solving the league's No. 1 defense today. He won NFL Offensive Player of the Week honors last week for guiding the 49ers to a 39-38, storybook comeback win over the New York Giants in a wild-card playoff game.

How heroic would a win today be for the 49ers?

"What this team hasn't done yet is win a playoff game on the road, so if we can, it will be a big accomplishment," said Mariucci, who is 0-2 in road playoffs games in his six seasons as coach.

John York, the 49ers owner representative, said Saturday he wouldn't go so far as to classify today's game as a "defining moment" for the club, or for Mariucci, whose long-term future with the club is unknown.

"It's foolish to look at one game and do it as 'win or else,'" York said. "We were written off two years ago. I think last year was a big surprise being a wild-card team. Coming back this quickly and having the opportunity to move forward, we've shown we can bounce back and be in the show."

If the 49ers are to move forward after today's game, they'll have to get past a vaunted Buccaneers defense, which is perhaps personified best by defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

However, "it's not just him that's No. 1," 49ers right guard Ron Stone said. "It's their whole defense that's No. 1. Their scheme makes them a great defense."

Added 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Knapp: "It'll be tough to get a 10-play drive because they're so well coached. You've got to get big plays. They do a good job of slowing you down so you don't get a big play."

The 49ers will need Garcia to set up those big plays.

"One of our strengths is Jeff's mobility," Knapp said. "He creates passing lanes when he's out of the pocket. ... You have a chance to get some chunks in the passing game. You've got to pick your spots, and when the time comes, you've got to hit it."

Although Garcia passed for 331 yards last Sunday, he did not throw deep. His longest completion officially went for 76 yards, but it was a 10-yard pass that Terrell Owens caught before he raced to the end zone.

When Mariucci bumped into Owens one night last week near the team's weight room, Mariucci said he pointed out how, "we didn't throw down field past 12 to 15 yards the whole day."

Owens' response: "Nah, my pass was downfield."

Mariucci: "Oh, I forgot about that duck you threw."

Owens completed the first pass of his career with a 25-yard toss to Tai Streets in the second quarter.

Considering how Owens' pass fluttered, the 49ers better hope Garcia is healthy enough today so Owens, Rattay and others can rest their arms against the top-ranked Buccaneers defense.

"They're No. 1 around and we feel our offense should be No. 1, so we'll go out and show what we can do," Deese said.

NOTES: Cornerback Jason Webster did some light running but did not participate in the team drills because of a sprained left ankle that sidelined him last week. Mariucci said Webster is a game-time decision, and rookie Mike Rumph will likely start in his place again. ... Mariucci said rookie linebacker Saleem Rasheed, who's battled a thigh injury, will be activated.

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