Sacramento Bee

Tempers flare, and fingers point wildly
January 06, 2003
By Jim Jenkins -- Bee Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tempers, which had been building throughout Sunday's playoff game, overflowed after Jeff Garcia winning, 13-yard touchdown pass to Tai Streets, giving the 49ers their final 39-38 margin.

As the 49ers were assembling for a two-point conversion with a minute left, Giants strong safety Shaun Williams visited their huddle and engaged in a heated face-to-face conversation with Terrell Owens. Officials and Williams' teammates quickly moved in to pull him back, and emotions cooled.

But not for long. When Garcia's conversion pass, intended for Owens, was intercepted, cornerback Will Allen sprinted out of the end zone, and Owens gave chase, aggressively knocking him out of bounds.

Unlike the college rule, an interception on a two-point attempt in the NFL cannot be returned for a defensive score, but apparently that made no difference to these teams. As Allen was sent sprawling, Williams came up and blasted Owens from behind and, before long, several players joined in. Things were quickly quelled by officials, who ejected Williams for throwing a punch. The 49ers were not penalized.

Williams, who watched the end of the game in the locker room, accused Owens of antagonizing him with profanity.

Owens, who had a game-high nine receptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns and set up another touchdown with a 25-yard pass to Streets, told a different story.

"They talked my ear off," Owens said of the New York secondary. "Shaun Williams was the worst. I never heard someone curse someone else so much."

The verbal battle between the teams dates to the season opener, won 16-13 by the then-visiting 49ers. Owens was held to four catches for 41 yards with no touchdowns. "I guess I had the last laugh," he said of the rematch.

Except the Giants were not amused.

"Terrell was laughing, gesturing and cursing at me," Williams said, explaining the reasoning for his huddle visit following the touchdown. "I looked at him and said to myself, All right. Then, he got closer, and so I reacted."

Of running Owens down after Allen's interception, Williams said: "I was just trying to protect my guy. If you look at (the replay), I'm headed the other way, and I looked back to see this lineman (near Allen)."

Strahan shut out -- Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who set a league record with 22 1/2 sacks last season, was shut out for the second time in two games by the 49ers, mainly because of the work of offensive right tackle Scott Gragg, a former teammate of Strahan's.

Strahan clearly was not in the mood to hear about getting blanked again, though, chastising the reporter who asked him about it.

"He plays me like (expletive)," he said of Gragg, insisting that the former Giant required assistance all day to block him. "With a guy like Garcia, with as much moving as he does, you have stand in front of him."

Then, turning to his inquisitor, Strahan asked, "How many sacks do you have?"

Shockey at play -- Jeremy Shockey, the Giants' mischievous Pro Bowl rookie tight end, had seven catches for 68 yards and a touchdown, but failed to catch a third-down pass on third-and-goal that might well have put the game out of reach for the 49ers. Instead, New York settled for a field goal and a 38-14 lead.

Collins showed irritation over the incompletion later, and Shockey felt bad, too. He tore his helmet off in the end zone and tossed it, which probably should have resulted in a penalty but didn't.

Shockey might hear about a sideline development, though. He threw a cup with water over his shoulder and into the stands, where it hit a boy. The team gave the boy a football as a gift. "I didn't think it hurt anybody, but I guess it hit a couple of kids," he said. "I apologized to them."

Good on the run -- The 49ers' effectiveness took a quantum leap in the second half when the team, out of pure desperation, went to a no-huddle offense that allowed the quarterback to "let it fly," a phrase he repeatedly had invoked in the days leading up to the game.

"I know there's talk of me needing to stay in the pocket at times," said Garcia. "Well, you saw today how moving around in the pocket, going up and out, creates many possible opportunities for this team."

Garcia passed for 220 yards in the second half alone, and the 49ers repeatedly victimized a tiring New York defense that couldn't handle the no-huddle approach.

Good omen -- Receiver J.J. Stokes said the 49ers randomly decided to take the two-minute drill out of their practice routine last week. They work on it every Wednesday, but they had a short week after playing a Monday night game, and they were having a great practice, so the coach cut it short. Guess they didn't need it. Stokes said the last time the 49ers cut out the two-minute drill was before their Week 1 victory against these same Giants. They needed a two-minute drill to win that game, too.

Not-so-hot corner -- Heading into Sunday's game, rookie cornerback Mike Rumph, substituting for injured Jason Webster, appeared to be the biggest liability in the 49ers' secondary.

But it was the team's top cornerback, Ahmed Plummer, who was victimized by Giants receiver Amani Toomer for 136 yards and three touchdowns.

Plummer did get a bit of redemption with 29 seconds remaining in the game when he leapt in front of Toomer for an apparent interception deep in 49ers territory. The pass was ruled incomplete and was not reviewed.

"It was a blur," Plummer said later. "I felt like I had it, we rolled over and Toomer tore it out. I don't know."

Defensive coordinator Jim Mora was more certain.

"All I know is that (the referee) took out his beanie and dropped his beanie," he said. "It's a change of possession."

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