The Press Democrat

Plummer has it covered
January 10, 2003
49ers cornerback expects to bounce back after rough outing against Giants


SANTA CLARA -- If cornerback Ahmed Plummer is the worst of the 49ers' defensive concerns, the team should be in pretty good shape Sunday.

Plummer, who has been the rock of the 49ers' secondary the past two seasons, endured an unusually difficult game in the NFC wild-card playoff against the New York Giants.

It might have been the roughest game of his career -- a career that included 14 starts his rookie season in 2000.

"Ahmed is one of the hardest working guys on this team," 49ers safety Zack Bronson said. "Sometimes you have bad games, but the most important thing is we lived to see another game. We're not worried about him at all. We know he's going to bounce back and make plays for us."

The next game can't get here soon enough for Plummer, who is eager to erase the bad memories with a more acceptable performance Sunday against Keyshawn Johnson and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC divisional playoff game.

"This game is so much fun and you just want to do well and be the best you can be," Plummer said. "Whenever I don't play to my standard, it drives me even more to get back out there and back to the drawing board and see how much better I can get."

The Giants figured to target rookie Mike Rumph, who was making his second career start. Rumph was playing in place of third-year player Jason Webster, who was out with a left ankle sprain.

Instead, the Giants went right at the 49ers' only proven cornerback.

Or, more accurately, the Giants had their sights set on their own receiver, Amani Toomer. Plummer just happened to be the man caught in the cross-fire.

"We put a lot of pressure on Ahmed," 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. "We matched him up with Toomer the whole game and we gave him very little help. We obviously did that because Mike was starting his first playoff game as a rookie."

Until the midway point in the third quarter, the game was an unmitigated disaster for Plummer, as Toomer beat him for three touchdown receptions. The 49ers trailed, 38-14, in large part because of Plummer's travails.

"Amani Toomer is one of the best receivers out there," Plummer said.

"I knew it was going to be a huge challenge out there for me. I wanted to basically shut him down. I didn't want him to catch any balls. That's how I went into the game.

"Sometimes you have to stay within yourself. You can't come out and say. 'This guy's not going to catch a ball.' That's when you start doing a little too much and not playing your game."

Said Mora: "Quite frankly, as Ahmed will tell you, for 21/2 quarters, he struggled. But the great thing about Ahmed is, he came out the other end glowingly. He made a heck of a nice play on that interception, which was an interception."

Plummer had perfect coverage on a deep pass to Toomer on the Giants' final drive and nearly had the interception. Although the 49ers complained about the call, television replays appeared to show Plummer never had control of the ball before it popped out after he hit the ground.

Two plays later, Plummer again had nice coverage on a deep pass to Toomer that fell incomplete. The 49ers advanced to the divisional round against the Buccaneers after the Giants and officials botched the final play of the game to secure the 49ers' 39-38 victory.

"We survived that storm," Mora said. "When one of your best players has a tough day and you're still able to overcome it and win, that's a great thing."

Toomer finished the game with eight catches for 136 yards.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Plummer was back at practice with Mora working on turning to find the ball in flight while running with the man he's covering. It is a drill the 49ers' corners work on every practice.

"I just wasn't finishing," Plummer said. "I wasn't making the play. Being close in this league isn't good enough. Players are good and they're going to make those close plays."

If Webster is unable to play, the 49ers will have their hands full trying to match up with Tampa's top three receivers: Johnson, Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius. Second-year corner Rashad Holman would take over as the nickel back if Rumph has to start again.

Because of the Bucs' balance at receiver, Plummer probably will not be assigned one receiver to shadow all game. But if they saw a weakness in him and the Bucs try to exploit it, Plummer said he'll be ready.

"I welcome the challenge," he said. "I'm ready for that to be the reaction because that's what most teams do."

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