The Press Democrat

49ers found some spunk at right time
January 07, 2003

Highlights, lowlights and insights from the 49ers' 39-38 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday in an NFC wild-card playoff game:


HEART, COURAGE: Down 24 points late in the third quarter, the 49ers were left for dead. But nobody told them. Showing spunk they haven't shown for any prolonged period this season, the 49ers put together the second-best comeback in NFL playoff history. The 49ers got contributions from every facet of their team during their spirited rally. But they certainly could not have done it without the inept Giants' field-goal unit. It was a victory that should make all those fans who left Candlestick Park early ashamed of their fair-weather support.

GARCIA, MARIUCCI: Both men entered the game with loads of pressure. Quarterback Jeff Garcia had three Pro Bowl invitations but no NFL postseason victories. Coach Steve Mariucci's contract negotiations are bound to go a lot smoother with a first-round playoff victory -- especially one that leaves such a feel-good aftertaste. In a game with many turning points, Mariucci's decision to go with the no-huddle offense late in the third quarter seemed to kick-start Garcia and the offense.


FIRST 21/2 QUARTERS: How could things have gone worse for the 49ers? They were down 24 points and lucky it wasn't 28 points of Jeremy Shockey's dropped pass in the end zone. Cedrick Wilson muffed a punt, Garcia threw an interception and Giants QB Kerry Collins was slicing through the 49ers' pass defense like he was facing his scout team. The 49ers offense, defense and special teams were partly responsible for the large deficit. Of course, all three also enabled them to get back into the game and win it.

MORE INJURIES: Left tackle Derrick Deese was forced out of the game early in the third quarter with the aggravation of an ankle sprain. His availability for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is in question. It was key to get free safety Zack Bronson back, but he was unable to make it through the whole game because of a sore left foot. Bronson played his first game since breaking his foot in mid-October. The most bizarre injury was sustained by kicker Jeff Chandler, who twisted the ankle on his plant foot in pregame warm-ups. "We iced him for 20 minutes, then threatened him," Mariucci said.


PUNT RETURNS: Vinny Sutherland is back. He did not mishandle any punts a year ago, though he gave them next to nothing in the way of return yardage. But Sutherland will take over for Cedrick Wilson, who muffed a punt in the second quarter that led directly to a Giants touchdown. Sutherland has returned punts his whole life, so he has a lot more experience than Wilson, who was forced into the role when Jimmy Williams was lost for the season with a knee injury.

ON A ROLL: The 49ers entered the playoffs with no momentum, coming off a bad loss to the St. Louis Rams. Now, they have all the momentum a team could ever want. They made up a 24-point deficit against a team generally considered to have one of the top defenses in the league. Now, they'll be up against the top defense in the league. The 49ers might be able to use many of the same offensive principals they used in their second-half rally against the Bucs. Suddenly, the 49ers are as hot as any team in the league.


OFFENSE: Garcia's first NFL playoff victory came with an epic performance.

DEFENSE: Linebacker Julian Peterson won more than his fair share of battles against Shockey. He also had an interception and a sack.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Bill LaFleur had his best game since coming to the team, with a 46.7-yard average on three punts.


Mariucci could have wound up as coach of the Buccaneers. Instead, Tampa Bay paid the price to the Raiders and got Jon Gruden. Mariucci began his coaching career in 1997 against the Buccaneers, and now he returns to face them in a vital game for both franchises.

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