Sacramento Bee

NFC's healthiest are playing for conference title
January 14, 2003
By Mike Triplett -- Bee Staff Writer

SANTA CLARA -- Steve Mariucci met with his team Monday morning, everyone still a little dazed from Sunday's season-ending 31-6 loss at Tampa Bay. And he admitted the truth about where the 49ers fit into the NFC picture.

"I congratulated them for winning the division, for advancing to the second round of the playoffs, and I told them where I thought we were as a football team," the 49ers' coach said. "I told them, given our health status right now, the two best teams in the NFC are playing in the championship game. I told them that straight out.

"We'd all like to think we're the best team, but I'm talking about the healthiest teams, the teams that are playing the best, really are Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. At this point in our season, we're not there. We're getting closer, but I told them those are the caliber of teams that next year, we have to be better than."

Mariucci's presumption was hardly a reach. The 49ers' two worst losses of the season came in the last month and a half -- to Tampa Bay and Philadelphia.

Injuries were certainly an issue with the 49ers, but no doubt the coaching staff will hit the drawing board in the offseason (assuming the staff remains intact) to figure out a way to bridge that gap.

Among the 49ers' regular-season games in 2003 are a home date against NFC South champion Tampa Bay and a trip to NFC East champion Philadelphia -- one of the "perks" that come with winning the NFC West. The 49ers also travel to Green Bay, which won the NFC North.

Plummer needs rehab -- Cornerback Ahmed Plummer said he was glad coaches didn't allow him to return to Sunday's game after he dislocated his shoulder in the first quarter. A magnetic resonance imaging exam Monday showed his injury was more severe than he realized.

Plummer probably won't require surgery. He will rest for a month to see if the tissue heals properly, then be re-evaluated.

Plummer was disappointed that he missed most of the season finale, especially after his struggles in the first-round playoff victory over the New York Giants.

"It was tough. It was hard," Plummer said. "I prepared all week, then had to watch from the sidelines."

Minor offseason surgeries are planned on safety Tony Parrish's thumb and guard Eric Heitmann's hand.

Other injuries will be evaluated, but the team expects to be healthy in time for minicamps.

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