Contra Costa Times

49ers try to look forward after crushing loss to Bucs
January 13, 2003
Tampa Bay dominates San Francisco, advances to the NFC title game

By Cam Inman

TAMPA, Fla. - Their Super Bowl drive halted by their second-worst playoff loss ever, the 49ers listened up Sunday as their boss had something to say.

Would it be a tongue lashing for their 31-6 defeat to the host Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC divisional playoff game? Or a pep talk for coming two wins shy of the Super Bowl?

"It was more of an encouraging thing," linebacker Julian Peterson said of owner representative John York's address. "He never came at us like, 'Y'all stink' and 'Y'all the worst team in the country.' He never came at us like that. It was just positive stuff and to look forward to next year."

So many negatives led to the 49ers' quick demise Sunday. But, afterward, York emphasized the positives he saw from a franchise only two years removed from back-to-back losing seasons.

"Three years ago, you guys were all writing that we were written off, that we wouldn't come out of the grave for years," York said. "We came out last year and we were a shock. This year, we win the western division for the first time in I don't know how many years (since 1997), and we win our first playoff game.

"If you look at it in a context of where we were, we've had a very good year."

Was it good enough to merit a lucrative contract extension for coach Steve Mariucci? York said he'll phone Mariucci on Tuesday to set up a future meeting where they can volley thoughts about Mariucci's contract, which expires after next season.

York sounded optimistic they could "get that worked out." Asked if Mariucci could return next year with only a year remaining on his contract, York said: "I don't think that's a good possibility, but it's a possibility. I don't think that's the way it should be."

Mariucci's sixth season included 11 wins, seven losses, an NFC West title and an amazing comeback from 24 points down to beat the New York Giants 39-38 in their playoff opener.

It all came to a crashing end as the Buccaneers (13-4) capitalized on the 49ers' five turnovers, including four by quarterback Jeff Garcia.

"It's a tough way to end it, certainly," Mariucci said. "I'm sure it will sit with all of us for a while. They've got to know, and I think they do, we made progress in winning the division and a playoff game."

Mariucci said his team desperately needs time to rest and recover from widespread injuries.

The latest blow came less than four minutes into Sunday's game, as cornerback Ahmed Plummer dislocated his right shoulder when hit by the helmet of wide receiver Joe Jurevicius.

"We all had our eyes on the prize. We knew this would be a hard one but that we needed everybody to go out there and give their all," Plummer said. "That's what I did and I got knocked out of the game."

With cornerback Jason Webster out for the second straight game because of a sprained left ankle, the 49ers sorely missed their top two cover men and turned to rookie Mike Rumph, second-year player Rashad Holman and Duane Hawthorne, who was acquired last month but never played a snap on defense until Sunday.

"It's no different than it's been all year. We've been musical DBs," 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora said.

The Buccaneers quickly preyed on that suspect secondary. Quarterback Brad Johnson passed for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and bruising back Mike Alstott also ran for two touchdowns to put the 49ers in a 28-6 hole at the break.

"We turned the ball over way too many times today, and we didn't execute the game plan," 49ers center Jeremy Newberry said. "We wanted to pound the ball a bit, but we got behind early and were not able to do that."

The 49ers settled for Jeff Chandler field goals of 24 and 40 yards on their only scoring drives, the first of which was set up by a 30-yard reception by Tai Streets to the Buccaneers 4-yard line.

The Buccaneers' scoring brigade slowed in the second half, but the 49ers gaffes continued. On the opening play from scrimmage after halftime, a Garcia pass bounced off Terrell Owens' right hand and left knee before it was intercepted by Dwight Smith.

The Buccaneers converted that takeaway into a 19-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica, putting the 49ers in a 25-point hole. Although they erased a 24-point deficit in the final 20 minutes a week earlier against the Giants, the 49ers couldn't pull off similar heroics in their encore.

"I don't think they had it in them to do what they did last week," Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Our offense was scoring at will."

The 49ers offense was stumbling at every turn. Garcia was harassed constantly by the Buccaneers' top-ranked defense, punctuated by a third-quarter play in which he fumbled after getting sacked by Simeon Rice at the Buccaneers 35-yard line.

"We probably had more pressure and hits on the quarterback than usual and certainly that led to some turnovers," Mariucci said.

Garcia got sacked four times, threw three interceptions and was 22-of-41 for 193 yards passing. The game ended with four consecutive incompletions from Garcia after the 49ers reached the Buccaneers' 8. It added up to a 35.9 efficiency rating, his lowest this season and the fourth-worst mark of his career.

Owens had only four catches for 35 yards and wasn't around to comment afterward.

Also missing Sunday was Garcia's scrambling skills, as he didn't have one carry.

"You didn't think you were going to see that, did you?" Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp asked. "Wrong stadium, wrong team, wrong coast. That's on the other coast where that works."

Said Garcia: "Unfortunately we ran into a wall today that we couldn't knock down."

Rather than knock his team's misfortune, York reminded his employees of their good deeds and promising future.

"I told the team separately and then I told the coaches, 'The way we want to finish the season is with a celebration in the locker room.' That's what this organization is going to be," York said. "It wasn't this year, but you have to congratulate them on where they brought us this year."

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