Sacramento Bee

Mariucci's wariness warranted
January 07, 2003
By Mark Kreidler -- Bee Sports Columnist

What's important here, clearly, is a sense of perspective. Let's abandon it immediately.

Steve Mariucci still isn't off the hook, and just because. He isn't off the hook despite one of the great NFL playoff comebacks of all time.

In fact, the argument can be made -- and trust us, it will be -- that the 49ers' astonishing second-half performance against the Giants on Sunday merely confirmed what Mooch-bashers had contended all along: The coach's conservative play-calling was choking the life out of an offense that is capable of so much more.

Mariucci only went to the two-minute-drill, no-huddle offense in the second half because, trailing 38-14, he was out of other decent options. When the Giants proved incapable of stopping it, and especially helpless in the face of Jeff Garcia constantly blasting out of the pocket and throwing on the run, the 49ers rode the formula all the way back to that 39-38 playoff final.

"Maybe that's something to consider," receiver Tai Streets said of going to a more rapid-fire offensive style. "It's up to Coach Knapp (offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, working hand in glove with Mariucci), and we're going to support whatever he decides."

Through much of a 10-6 season, Mariucci was sandblasted for not taking more chances on offense, not going into a more vertical game -- not "letting it fly," in the words of Garcia, a Canadian Football League refugee who loves nothing more than that very style.

The beauty of the argument, of course, is its utter slipperiness. The two-minute drill worked wonderfully against the Giants, who don't often substitute defensive linemen and who simply wore down after a day spent constantly on the field, in large part because New York's offense was scoring so quickly early on.

But that same no-huddle approach would be a comical disaster against Tampa Bay, the opponent that awaits the 49ers this weekend in Florida. Jon Gruden's Bucs are defensive-minded thugs who don't rattle, rarely tire and generally do a wonderful job of containing QBs on the run.

Either way, Mariucci is by no means in the clear. The talk of saving his job was always a secondary point; he's under contract for another season. No, the Mooch Watch is rightfully centered on the single question of whether he receives a contract extension, and that is a far-ranging decision that the S.F. brass would never let hang upon a single game, no matter how rapturous the final score.

Mariucci had a wonderful moment on Sunday at Candlestick Park. Here's the part about being the head coach: The moment's already over. Resume howling.

* Your trusted source for Giants football news, the New York media: The Monday morning headline in the Daily News read, "Brutal!" on the front page and "Take A Hike" on the back. The Post: "What A Big Blue Choke!" (Have a nice visit to Oakland, you gutty Jets, you.)

* Brett Favre says he'll play for at least one more season, which can mean only one thing: Anybody who counts out Green Bay for at least one more season is insane. (Also, at least one more opportunity for the Favre-Mariucci friendship/loyalty story to be re-told.)

* The Jets are given a chance in every football circle on the grounds that they've got the league's hottest quarterback, Chad Pennington. All of which must come as something of a surprise to league Most Valuable Player Rich Gannon, who, at last glance, does not stink.

* Bleeding money, not winning enough, needing to raise cash to pay the fellas on "The Best Damn Sports Show, Period": We begin to see the reasoning behind FOX television magnate Rupert Murdoch's interest in selling the Dodgers.

* George Steinbrenner says of pitcher Roger Clemens, "You can't lead the charge unless you know how to sit the saddle, and he knows how to sit the saddle." And it all sounds innocent, right up to the point that the Boss makes his latest power grab and takes control of the pro rodeo circuit. ("Jeter to Rivera: Calf-Ropin's A Hoot!")

Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.