Plummer keeps poise when game on the line
January 06, 2003
By JEFF FLETCHER and MATT MAIOCCO
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers had changed their defensive scheme to keep cornerback Ahmed Plummer on Amani Toomer.
So after the New York Giants' star receiver had spent much of the first half abusing Plummer, he needed a boost of confidence from his 49ers teammates at halftime.
"As a corner, it's so easy to lose your confidence and I was on the verge," Plummer said. "That's when my teammates came in and reminded me to keep the faith."
Plummer finally rewarded his team-mates' faith in him by making a potentially game-saving play in the final minute.
Never mind that it was just about the only play he made all day. He made it when it counted.
Just after the 49ers had scored to take a one-point lead with 60 seconds to go, the Giants started a furious drive toward a potential winning field goal.
Quarterback Kerry Collins looked at what had been an inviting target all day -- Toomer against Plummer -- but Plummer leapt and grabbed the ball. It came loose when he hit the ground and ruled an incomplete pass, upheld on review. But that didn't matter to defensive coordinator Jim Mora.
"As much as he struggled all day, he intercepted that ball," said Mora, beaming like a proud papa. "They didn't count it, but he intercepted that ball. When the game was on the line, they went to him and he intercepted it."
It was no surprise that the Giants went after Plummer, because Toomer had been having his way with him all day. Toomer finished with eight catches for 136 yards.
Plummer was on Toomer because the 49ers changed their scheme to keep rookie cornerback Mike Rumph away from him. Rumph had been playing exclusively on the right side since he'd been starting, but on Sunday the 49ers decided to have him and Plummer switch sides, with Plummer following Toomer.
"I feel like I had an advantage on him the whole game," Toomer said. "They tried to double me (with safety Zack Bronson) and different things, and I was still getting open."
Until the end.
Giants coach Jim Fassel had plenty to be upset about after seeing his team blow a 24-point lead, but he was particularly livid about a call the officials made setting up a 49ers' touchdown in the fourth quarter.
San Francisco receiver Cedrick Wilson was dragged down after an 18-yard catch at the Giants' 38. The ball squirted out of Wilson's hands and was recovered by the Giants. Officials ruled Wilson was down by contact, and therefore the play could not be reviewed on the replay. TV replays seemed to support the officials.
Fassell disagreed, saying the officials had not whistled the play dead but decided on the intepretation after huddling.
"That's the call that really set me off," Fassel said. "That ball was out. It was challengeable. There was no signal from any official. None."
Linebacker Julian Peterson and tight end Jeremy Shockey both won some battles and each had one they'd like to have back.
Shockey, the flamboyant Giants rookie tight end, caught seven passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. He also dropped a certain touchdown pass in the end zone. Peterson had one interception, a sack and also dropped an interception he said would've gone for a touchdown. Peterson dropped to the ground and did some pushups after his miscue.
"He gave me a great game," Peterson said. "He did a good job and I did, too."
When Shockey dropped his pass, Peterson said he thought about his dropped interception.
"I would've picked up a six, too," he said. "Those are the breaks. I know he's probably beating himself up right now. It's a tough loss."
No one was more relieved with the win than punt returner Cedrick Wilson, whose muff was the key play allowing the Giants to build a 24-point lead in the third quarter.
Wilson's failure to catch the punt deep in 49ers' territory resulted in a turnover. The Giants scored on an 8-yard TD pass to Toomer on the next play. The Giants added another touchdown before the end of the half for a 28-14 lead.
"I had my eyes on the ball and I looked down for one split-second to see if I had the opportunity return it," Wilson said. "When I made the fair catch, it tailed to the left of me. I shouldn't have stuck my hand out for it. I should have just let it roll. It was a bad decision on my part."
Wilson was replaced by recently signed Vinny Sutherland for the remainder of the game.
Niners right tackle Scott Gragg handled Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan for the second time this season. Strahan recorded just two tackles and no sacks.
"His strengths sort of play into my strengths," said Gragg, who played the first five seasons of his career with the Giants. "He's a hard-worker and I work hard, too."
Left tackle Derrick Deese (left ankle) is listed as questionable. He aggravated the injury early in the third quarter and was replaced by Matt Willig for the remainder of the game.
Safety Zack Bronson (left foot), guard Ron Stone (left ankle), linebacker Derek Smith (right ankle) and kicker Jeff Chandler (left ankle) are listed as probable. Chandler sustained his injury in pregame warm-ups.
Rookie Mike Rumph started in place of Jason Webster, who sat out with a right ankle sprain. The 49ers are hoping Webster will be available to play next week against Tampa Bay.
Terrell Owen's 76-yard TD pass from Jeff Garcia is tied for the second-longest pass play in 49ers postseason history. Joe Montana and Freddie Solomon had a 76-yard connection against Washington in 1984. The longest play was John Brodie's 78-yard pass to Gene Washington against Washington in 1970.
(The 77 combined points was the highest-scoring game in 49ers' postseason history.
Running back Kevan Barlow scored his first postseason touchdown. The 1-yard score was originally ruled down short of the goal line, but coach Steve Mariucci challenged the first-half call and it was overturned.
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