Contra Costa Times

Injuries take tremendous toll on 49ers secondary
January 13, 2003
Plummer dislocates his shoulder, Bronson leaves because of pain in left foot

By Ann Tatko

TAMPA, Fla. - The pain in his shoulder felt dull compared to the one in his gut.

As he lay on the field at Raymond James Stadium, 49ers cornerback Ahmed Plummer said, he knew his day was over. And with him went his season and that of the 49ers, as an already thin secondary took the first of two hits in Sunday's 31-6 NFC divisional playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Plummer dislocated his right shoulder 3 minutes, 43 seconds into the game as he tackled receiver Joe Jurevicius. Pain and numbness set in immediately. Disappointment followed just as quickly.

"It hurt a lot," Plummer said. "Before the game, I could feel this sense of urgency from being close to the goal that everyone's wanted for so long. I wanted to help this team reach that goal. That's what hurts the most, not being able to help."

The 49ers desperately needed Plummer to help anchor a secondary already missing one starter.

Rookie Mike Rumph had to start his second playoff game in place of cornerback Jason Webster (ankle). Second-year corner Rashad Holman replaced the injured Plummer for the remainder of the game.

And by the third quarter, the 49ers were down to just one starter in the secondary. Free safety Zack Bronson exited after the first half because of pain from a recently healed broken left foot, which cost him almost three months of playing time.

That left strong safety Tony Parrish as the lone starter in the backfield.

"Nothing new," Parrish said with a shrug. "There was no stress on me. I just made the adjustment, like I've been doing all year. We didn't go out with any packages that we didn't already have in the game."

But they had plenty of new personnel, backups who had played before, just never all at the same time and certainly not in the biggest game of the season.

"That's difficult," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. "It affects more than just that position. It affects what you call on defense. These are guys who have seen limited practice time. You can ask only so much of them."

Before Plummer's injury, the 49ers planned to use a two-deep zone, with Holman giving them extra help on a few snaps.

The plan worked well on the Bucs opening drive. Facing third and nine, quarterback Brad Johnson threw a pass to Keyshawn Johnson that Holman intercepted.

The plan remained in place for only three more plays before Plummer's injury changed everything.

For starters, defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr. said, the 49ers were less effective on the pass rush because the safeties had to stay back and assist the cornerbacks. That gave Brad Johnson more time to find receivers, who were able to gain more separation against less experienced cornerbacks.

"Everything affects everything else," Mora said. "Your plan changes as the people on the field change and the circumstances change. You have to change with it. You always have to have contingencies."

As the latest contingency unfolded, Bronson had to watch from the sidelines, alongside Plummer.

Before the game he had convinced Mora that he could play. That didn't mean he was pain free, and eventually, that fact caught up with him.

"You have no idea how frustrating and disappointing it is," Bronson said. "You want to be out there helping your teammates so bad, it hurts, even more than the injury. That's the worst kind of pain."

Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.