San Jose Mercury

49ers get extra day to savor comeback
January 07, 2003

By Dennis Georgatos
Mercury News

Before turning their full attention to Sunday's playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 49ers were given one more day to savor their grand comeback against the New York Giants.

``I want them to enjoy that win because that's one of those once-in-a-lifetime sort of finishes,'' Coach Steve Mariucci said Monday. ``I'm going to show them the film so they can relive and learn from it. Then, when we're done -- BOOM, our minds are off this game and get on the Tampa Bay Bucs immediately.''

The 49ers rallied from 24 points down in the second half to overtake the Giants 39-38 Sunday in the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history. But they don't want to put themselves in that kind of bind against the Bucs, whose defense ranked first in the league in seven major categories, including total yards, yards passing and points allowed.

``I hope to move forward and play a better game from start to finish against Tampa than what we were able to do the first half against the Giants,'' quarterback Jeff Garcia said.

After a day off today for the players, the 49ers will begin preparing Wednesday for the Jon Gruden-coached Bucs, who as the No. 2 seed in the NFC drew a first-round bye.

Gruden left the Raiders to take the Tampa Bay job last spring after Mariucci had been interviewed by Bucs ownership and opted to remain with the 49ers.

Mariucci said he's not spending time considering the what-ifs.

``I know Jon's happy there and he's doing a heck of a job. He won his division and got it rolling,'' Mariucci said. ``We have a lot of respect for each other. We're very competitive.''

Along with the return of quarterback Brad Johnson from a back injury, the 49ers will have to contend with the Bucs' star-laden defense that showed its mettle by among other things humbling the league's fastest-rising star, Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick. In a 34-10 drubbing of the Falcons on Dec. 8, the Bucs used their defensive speed to hem in Vick, preventing him from using his mobility to make plays.

``The thing is, they get pressure on the quarterback with a four-man rush,'' Mariucci said. ``Warren Sapp and his guys are fantastic defensive linemen. They have made a name for that defense.''

Center Jeremy Newberry said the 49ers must account for players such as Sapp and pass-rushing end Simeon Rice all the time to maintain their offensive efficiency.

``You have to game plan for a defensive force like that,'' said Newberry, who figures to join guards Ron Stone and Eric Heitmann at times in double teams of Sapp.

``That guy is a great player. He's an awesome player. Same with Simeon Rice. You've got to do different things to slow him down, give him different looks.''

One lesson the 49ers could take from their first-round playoff win, in which they scored a season high in points, is a judicious use of the no-huddle as a possible counter against the Bucs' tremendous speed on defense.

Beginning late in the third quarter, the 49ers relied on the hurry-up style to wear down the Giants' defense as they put together a 25-point run.

``I think it's not so much the no-huddle offense, but I think it's the fact that we opened up the offense,'' Garcia said. ``We didn't try to push something that wasn't working. The running game wasn't as effective as we would have liked. It came to a point where we had to get away from it. We had to spread it out and put the ball in the air.''

Garcia passed for 220 of his 331 yards in the second half and complemented his throws on several occasions by scrambling for key gains.

That improvisational style could help him dodge Tampa Bay's pursuit and get the ball to Terrell Owens, Tai Streets and Eric Johnson.

``Many of the plays that took place were more ad-libbing than anything else,'' Garcia said. ``They weren't true to design. That is going to happen during a game. Especially when you are playing Tampa Bay, which has a tremendous pass rush and solid defense, you're going to have to make things happen with your feet.''

Sunday's postseason encounter is the first between the Bucs and the 49ers and marks their first meeting since 1997, when Steve Young went down with a concussion and Jerry Rice blew out his knee in Mariucci's debut as 49ers coach.


49ers (11-6) at Tampa Bay (12-4), 10 a.m.

New York Jets (10-7) at Raiders (11-5), 1:30 p.m. (subject to blackout)

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