Sacramento Bee

From praise to blunt criticism
January 13, 2003
By Mike Triplett -- Bee Staff Writer

TAMPA, Fla. -- Bill Walsh was discussing quarterback Jeff Garcia's performance after both 49ers playoff games in these last eight days. And if you really want to know the difference between the New York Giants' defense and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense, check out the change in Walsh's critiques.

A week ago, Walsh was saying something about Joe Montana and Steve Young never performing better than Garcia when he scrambled his way to 60 rushing yards against New York.

After Sunday's 31-6 loss to the Bucs, Walsh didn't pull any punches.

"When he went out on the run, they would catch him immediately. He had no chance," said Walsh, a 49ers consultant. "He would best have stayed in the pocket. If he stayed in there, he was effective. The minute he left there, they caught him.

"That's probably a good lesson for Jeff and a good lesson for all of us to remind ourselves."

Garcia had zero rushes Sunday. He did scramble out of the pocket several times, buying time to throw, but he found the grass no greener.

In fact, it was a lot redder -- as in the color of those swarming Bucs jerseys. Tampa's defensive front was predictably too fast to allow Garcia to escape.

Still, Garcia can hardly be blamed. He may play another 10 years in this league and never face such a stacked defensive deck.

Garcia's options were limited, especially after the bloodthirsty Bucs defense started playing with those leads: 7-0, 14-3, 21-6.

Oh, what a feast it was once the Buccaneers went ahead 21-6.

Not even the bravest of radio-show callers could have had a suggestion for 49ers coach Steve Mariucci at that point.

"It becomes more of a sense of trying to be urgent with everything that you are doing," said Garcia, who had his most ineffective outing of the season a mere four days after being named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week. "Especially with a good defense like them, you really start to play into their hands because they know exactly what you are going to do."

The 49ers came into Tampa with hopes of establishing the running game (they had 62 yards in 13 carries) -- but with the willingness to switch to the no-huddle early in the game. Whichever offense they used, they knew they needed a mistake-free performance.

And that is where they fell short. The 49ers strung together a series of mistakes and missed opportunities in the first half that played into the Buccaneers' hands.

They blew an opportunity at the start, taking over on Tampa Bay's 40 after an interception. But on third and five, Garcia slipped and fell while dropping back to pass, and the 49ers punted to a Tampa team that drove the field for a touchdown.

The 49ers were successful on their second offensive drive, until they stalled at the Bucs' 4-yard line. Garcia's first-down pass bounced off receiver J.J. Stokes' hands. Tailback Kevan Barlow lost two yards on second down. Garcia threw it away on third down. And the 49ers settled for a disheartening field goal.

The 49ers settled for another field goal on their third offensive series after three consecutive incomplete passes.

Then came the 49ers' fumbled kickoff return. Then came an interception off the hands of receiver Tai Streets.

And, geez, was it really only halftime?

This time, the game ended there. The 49ers left their miracles in San Francisco.

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