Plummer OK after getting into a zone
January 06, 2003
Kevin Lynch, Chronicle Staff Writer
In pain, both physically and mentally, 49ers cornerback Ahmed Plummer dejectedly headed to the 49ers' halftime locker room.
Saddled with covering Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer for most of the first half, throws to Plummer's side netted the Giants six catches in six attempts for 78 yards and three touchdowns. It would have been even worse if another 17-yard reception against Plummer was not called back because of holding.
As the defense gathered beside the locker room, Plummer broke away for a private huddle with safeties Zack Bronson and Ronnie Heard and defensive coordinator Jim Mora.
As a former safety at the University of Washington, Mora could identify with Plummer's situation. Defensive backs have possibly the toughest job in football -- guarding highly skilled wide receivers who know where they are going on pass routes.
The group could feel Plummer's flagging spirits.
"You just got to keep your head up," Bronson said. "You have to give yourself a chance."
Heard told him the same thing.
"Ahmed is one of the best cornerbacks in this league," Heard said. "He studies more film than anybody else. I will never give up on him. I didn't want his spirits getting down."
In the second half, Plummer got more help from the safeties, and Toomer, the former De La Salle High of Concord standout, was kept out of the end zone. Plummer almost picked off a pass headed Toomer's way on the Giants' final drive, but officials ruled Plummer didn't control the ball.
Plummer credited his teammates for the turnaround in his second-half play.
"They really encouraged me," Plummer said. "We are all in this together. It's not about one person."
Plummer was helped by Mora's decision to play primarily in a two-deep zone. The 49ers initially double-covered Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey and helped rookie cornerback Mike Rumph with wide receiver Ron Dixon. That left Plummer in man coverage on Toomer, one of the elite wide receivers in the league.
But after Plummer further strained his groin, an injury that kept him out of the loss to Green Bay on Dec. 15, in the first quarter, Mora started to rethink his defense.
The two-deep zone protected both Rumph and Plummer.
"It was like coming home," middle linebacker Derek Smith said of the familiar defense.
The key to playing the scheme well is Smith. He quickly must read if a play is run or pass. If he is fooled by a play-action fake, the middle of the field is left open to Shockey.
"I told him what kind of defense we were playing and he was like, 'Fine,' " Mora said of Smith.
Smith actually welcomed the challenge. "We wanted to get back to the defense we know best," he said.
Once the defense settled into the two-deep, the 49ers sensed something. "You could just feel the change out there," Smith said. "It was awesome."
The Giants' juggernaut of an offense suddenly was grounded. New York ended the game with two punts, a missed field-goal try and a muffed field-goal attempt.
When the Giants' botched that last field-goal try to end the game, Plummer sank to one knee. With the crowd in a frenzy, and his teammates jumping around like lottery winners, Plummer took a moment to be alone with his thoughts.
When asked what emotion he was feeling, Plummer smiled and said, "Vindication."
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