San Francisco Examiner

49ers vs. Buccaneers
January 11, 2003
Last regular-season meeting: Aug. 31, 1997, at Tampa Stadium

Outcome: Bucs, 13-6

Last playoff meeting: Never met

The line: Bucs +5

San Francisco 49ers(10-6)

Coach: Steve Mariucci

Years with 49ers: Six

Career record: 58-39 (.598)

Postseason record: 3-3

Last postseason game: A 39-38 victory over the New York Giants on Jan. 5 at Candlestick Park

49ers summary: The 49ers rallied from 24 points down to defeat the Giants, primarily because Mariucci went with the no-huddle offense, which gave QB Jeff Garcia freedom to improvise. Mariucci seems hesitant to go with the no-huddle because it could backfire and keep his defense on the field for long stretches. But he might not have any choice. The 49ers defense played one strong quarter in the opening-round playoff victory, which won't cut it. It's crucial that the 49ers get in Johnson's face and disrupt his passing rhythm. The 49ers win only if they're able to make it a high-scoring affair.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers(12-4)

Coach: Jon Gruden

Years with Buccaneers: One

Career record: 50-30 (.625)

Postseason record: 2-2

Last postseason game: A 31-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium on Jan. 12, 2002

Bucs summary: The Bucs are rested and hungry. First-year coach Jon Gruden received a mountain of cash just for occasions like this. Tampa Bay lacks the punishing running game necessary to make a deep playoff run. But the Bucs' will have their offensive leader, QB Brad Johnson, back on the field. Johnson, who finished as the NFC's top-rated passer, threw 15 touchdown passes and one interception in his final five starts and will challenge the 49ers' vulnerable secondary. The Bucs will depend on their top-ranked defense to control the line of scrimmage. If they're successful, it's good night, Niners.

Matchups to watch

Bucs DE SimeonRice vs. 49ersLT Derrick Deese

Deese has faced Rice before, but that's when the defensive end was in Arizona, where he underachieved. Being surrounded by superior defensive players has brought out the best in Rice, who finished the regular season with a NFC best 15.5 sacks. The game could swing on this matchup. Deese has been slowed by a sprained ankle and was pulled in the second half of the 49ers' wild-card victory over the Giants. Rice is the quintessential speed-rusher and he could run right by an ailing Deese. If Deese can't finish, Mariucci will turn to Matt Willig, a steady reserve who could find the going tough.

Bucs DT Warren Sapp vs. 49ersLG Eric Heitmann

Now, the 49ers will find out just what they have in Heitmann, a rookie from Stanford who has been a surprise contributor this season. This could turn into a nightmarish matchup for the 49ers, because Sapp is simply one of the best at his position in the game. Sapp led all NFC tackles with 7.5 sacks and the Niners must slide Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry over to help Heitmann to keep Sapp from wreaking havoc. The Bucs like to move Sapp from one gap to another, so right guard Ron Stone -- who's also hampered with an ankle injury -- will likely be matched up against the six-time Pro Bowl player.

Bucs defensive backs vs. 49ersWR Terrell Owens

Owens had a monster game against the Giants, with nine catches for 177 yards and two TDs. There's no way he will have a day like that against the Bucs, who feature the league's fifth-rated pass defense. Like the Giants, the Bucs use a two-deep zone; they just do it better. Look for cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Cory Ivy to get backside help from safeties John Lynch and Dexter Jackson. Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks will also zero in on Owens if Owens crosses the middle of the field. Owens is the best receiver in the game, but he's not faced a secondary as talented and disciplined as Tampa Bay's.

Bucs WR Keyshawn Johnson vs. 49ersCB Ahmed Plummer

Plummer had a rough day against Giants receiver Amani Toomer, who finished with eight catches for 136 yards and three TDs. Plummer finished strong in the one-on-one battle, but he has had trouble with tall receivers. Johnson is not nearly the talent that Toomer is, but he's cocky and confident, a gamer who had 76 receptions for 1,088 yards and five touchdowns. You know he's watched film of Plummer's struggles last week and will demand that he be given a chance to challenge Plummer, considered the 49ers' top cover corner.

-- Ricci Graham

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