All eyes will be on Owens
January 09, 2003
Late-game conduct could hit receiver in the wallet
By MATT MAIOCCO
SANTA CLARA -- Terrell Owens' latest performance supplied plenty of evidence for his most ardent supporters.
It also created some fodder for his critics, however.
Owens had a phenomenal game Sunday against the New York Giants in an NFC wild-card playoff game, with nine catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns. But he almost spoiled the performance with a couple of penalties after the 49ers had taken a one-point lead with one minute remaining.
Fortunately for the 49ers, Owens wasn't the only one who got carried away in the final minute. Owens' unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty was matched by Giants safety Shaun Williams. Then, his unnecessary-roughness penalty was topped by Williams, who threw a punch and was ejected.
As it turned out, Owens' transgressions did not cost the 49ers any yardage on the kickoff after the go-ahead score.
"He used great restraint until the very end," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said of Owens.
Owens has the respect of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whom the 49ers face Sunday in an NFC divisional playoff. Warren Sapp, Tampa's outspoken defensive tackle, calls Owens "his favorite" because of his brash nature. Coach Jon Gruden says Owens is "a beast after the catch."
But Owens' transgressions last Sunday likely will hit him in the wallet. Owens, Williams and a handful of others who entered a fight scene in the final minute are subject to hefty fines, which could be announced by the NFL as early as today.
Mariucci said the groundwork for Owens' actions was laid in September when the 49ers and Giants met in the season opener. Owens was the recipient of numerous taunts from the Giants' secondary. Although no Giants player was penalized during that game, the league levied taunting fines on cornerback William Peterson ($10,000), Williams ($5,000) and safety Omar Stoutmire ($5,000).
Owens said he took all kinds of verbal abuse during Sunday's game, especially when the Giants had built a 38-14 lead late in the third quarter.
After Tai Streets scored the go-ahead 49ers' touchdown with one minute remaining, Owens stood over Williams and gestured -- pointing at his own helmet -- that he was inside the Giants' heads. He also pointed toward the scoreboard.
Owens was called for taunting, which would have forced the 49ers to kick off from their own 15-yard line. However, Williams retaliated and the penalties were offsetting.
After Giants cornerback Will Allen intercepted Jeff Garcia's pass on the two-point conversion attempt, Owens delivered a forearm to the back of Allen's helmet on the return. Allen ran the ball out of the end zone despite the fact that the play is immediately dead after an interception on a conversion attempt in the pros.
Again, Owens was called for the penalty, but Williams again retaliated and a fight ensued. Both penalties were offsetting.
"There's no excuse for that other than what I can tell you," Mariucci said. "That started on the Thursday night to open the season. I commended T.O. for the poise he showed in that game. He was getting it in his ear for three hours."
Niners receivers coach George Stewart, an unconditional Owens supporter, said his player did nothing wrong.
"Terrell did not lose his composure or say one thing negative," Stewart said. "He didn't do anything. Whatever the media says about him losing his composure or saying something, they lied. He didn't say one thing. He just played football."
As for the rough takedown on a play that was blown dead as soon as Allen intercepted the pass, Stewart said it was Allen's fault for not knowing the rules.
"As far as I'm concerned, the guy who picked off the pass never should've run," Stewart said. "It's just like a dog chasing a cat. If a cat runs, a dog's going to chase him. I have friends across the country who called me to commend Terrell on the professionalism he showed on Sunday. There were no extra antics and no touchdown celebrations. He left all the animation to the player on the other team."
Owens performed on the field. He also delivered a halftime speech -- something he never had done with the 49ers. It is all part of a subtle makeover, Garcia said.
"He has made himself more of a team-oriented guy this year," Garcia said.
Running back Kevan Barlow says Owens generally gets a bad rap from the media. Owens has stopped talking to the media, except after games.
"They think he's a thug, a drug dealer and a murderer," Barlow said. "The media makes him out to be a bad guy. I mean, he can be a jerk sometimes and he can do some annoying things, but he's a good person."
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