49ers will have to be patient and pick their spots against Tampa Bay
January 11, 2003
By MATT MAIOCCO
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
TAMPA, Fla. -- Going against a defense like this, the 49ers know they have to be patient.
But they can't cross the line and become tentative, either.
"I don't know how patient you can be because they're so fast," 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' top-ranked defense. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to have to be decisive and be very good with my decisions."
The 49ers' offense will face its stiffest challenge of the season Sunday in a NFC divisional playoff game against the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. But the 49ers believe that Tampa hasn't seen many offenses like theirs, either.
"They faced only two offenses ranked higher than us," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Knapp points out.
"You can get some chunks in the passing game," Knapp added. "Pittsburgh had success early. It doesn't happen often. They're still ranked No. 1 in pass defense. You have to pick your spots and when that chance comes, you have to hit on it."
Sure enough, the best offenses Tampa faced this season were Minnesota, ranked No. 2, and fifth-ranked Pittsburgh. They defeated the Vikings, 38-24, on Nov. 3 before Minnesota began clicking, and they lost to Pittsburgh, 17-7.
It was noted to Garcia that Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre has commended the Bucs for playing the most disciplined defense in the NFL. But Garcia said the 49ers' offense is strong in that area, too.
"Well, I think we're a very disciplined offense in many ways," Garcia said. "In certain ways, that's different than how Brett approaches the game. Brett will take chances, he will try to utilize his arm strength and get the ball between defenders. He found that that just didn't work very well against Tampa Bay this year.
"I'm not that type of guy. I know the limits of my arm strength. I know the limits of my abilities. It's important for me to make good decisions and put my team in the best possible situations to have success."
The 49ers have struggled defending teams that put three quality receivers on the field. Those shortcomings have been apparent on third downs, where the 49ers' defense was the worst in the league.
And those problems might be exacerbated Sunday if right cornerback Jason Webster is unable to play with a sprained left ankle. That means rookie Mike Rumph would start for Webster, but an even bigger dropoff might be Rashad Holman taking over for Rumph as the nickel back.
The Bucs' third receiver is Joe Jurevicius, who caught 37 passes for 423 yards and four touchdowns. Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell are the starters.
"If he was on another team, he might be starting," Rumph said of Jurevicius. "He's a good receiver. He brings another dimension to their offense when he comes into the game."
Niners defensive coordinator Jim Mora said it will be a bonus if Webster is able to play. Webster did not practice Friday and is looking as if he will miss his second game since sustaining the injury Dec. 30 in the 49ers' regular-season finale at St. Louis.
"It would be nice to have Jason back, but Mike Rumph has played very well," Mora said. "We have to approach it like we're not going to have him."
Receiver Terrell Owens sat out practice Friday to rest his legs.
Owens, who missed the final two games of the regular season with a groin strain, practiced Thursday and should show no ill-effects in Sunday's game.
Cornerback Ahmed Plummer rested his sore groin and safety Zack Bronson was held out of practice to avoid putting any more strain on his left foot.
Guard Ron Stone, tackle Derrick Deese and center Jeremy Newberry, all nursing left ankle sprains, returned to practice Friday.
The Buccaneers say they have taken note of the 49ers' big comeback against the New York Giants and vowed it won't happen to them.
"Whenever you have a chance to put somebody away, you put them away," Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said.
Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.