Bucs very wary of T.O.
January 09, 2003
BY FRED GOODALL
TAMPA, Fla. -- The NFL's top-ranked defense is bracing for Terrell Owens.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers know that containing the flamboyant 49ers receiver will be one of the keys to winning Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game at Raymond James Stadium. And they welcome the challenge.
"Terrell is one of the elite players in this league. We've known that for a long time and I think he's stepped up his game even more this year," said safety John Lynch, one of five Bucs defensive stars on the All-Pro team.
"I've got a lot of respect for the guy. He's got a lot of shenanigans that go along with it. But if you're out there making plays like he is, you can do what you want, in my mind. He's a big-time player and we're going to have to be in tune with where he is at all times."
Owens caught 100 passes for 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season. He had nine receptions for 177 yards and two TDs in the 49ers' 39-38 wild-card victory over the New York Giants.
One of the intriguing matchups Sunday will be the 6-foot-3, 226-pound Owens against cornerback Ronde Barber, who believes the Bucs' defense matches up well against the 49ers' offense.
"It seems like we always get a couple of these at playoff time. It's always our 'D' vs. some powerful offense coming in here. But the West Coast offense, I think we've seen it so much and we're used to it so much that it's almost -- I don't want to say routine -- but we've got a feel for it," Barber said.
"The only variable in this deal is we've never played them before. We've never seen their quarterback, obviously. On the film, we know what they're about. But we don't know what they're about on the field."
The Bucs led the NFL in total defense and allowed a league-low 196 points to become just the sixth team to limit opponents to fewer than 200. They also led the league with 31 interceptions and tied for first in turnover differential at plus-17.
Another key to Tampa Bay's success has been its ability to keep mobile quarterbacks like Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb and Aaron Brooks in check. With the Niners, the Bucs face a different challenge in Jeff Garcia, a scrambler who is adept at finding receivers when he is on the run.
Garcia, who rallied San Francisco from a 24-point deficit against the Giants, was sacked only 22 times this season.
"We've played some quarterbacks who can move and create. But one thing about Jeff that's impressive is that he has an unbelievable ability, running right or left or forward, to locate receivers and throw the ball," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.
"He does a magnificent job of keeping all five eligibles in play and, if there's no one there, he is capable of running for big yardage."
Owens is hardly the 49ers' only productive receiver. Tight end Eric Johnson had eight catches for 78 yards against the Giants, while receiver Tai Streets had five for 58, including the TD that capped the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history.
Still, the Bucs know Owens is unlike any receiver they have faced.
"He presents the big-receiver problems, but he also presents the guy-after-the-catch problems," Bucs defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's the unique ability that he has. He's a big guy. He can be physical with you, he can muscle you, but he can also run away from you after he gets the ball."
Lynch is confident the Bucs are up to the challenge.
"Defensively, we'll do what we always do," the five-time Pro Bowl selection said. "We never really tailor our game plan to focus completely on one guy. We play our deal and do what we do well."
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