San Jose Mercury

Bucs dominate; Mariucci's fate unclear
January 13, 2003
By Dennis Georgatos
Mercury News

TAMPA, Fla. - After watching the 49ers' second-worst playoff loss, team director John York entered the locker room and offered encouragement for next season.

But he did little publicly to buck up Coach Steve Mariucci, whose future with the team is the 49ers' biggest off-season question after the 31-6 loss to Tampa Bay.

York said he expected to talk with Mariucci on Tuesday to determine when they should discuss a contract extension. It would be unusual for an NFL coach to spend the final year of his contract with the team as a ``lame duck.''

``We're not going to push it and hurry it, nor are we going to let it sit,'' York said. ``I don't know what the timing is. We'll just go forward and see how that all plays out.''

Mariucci and the 49ers can only hope it doesn't play out like Sunday's debacle in Tampa, where a 49ers squad already weakened by injury suffered more and then played a futile game of catch-up against the NFL's toughest defense.

``The last thing we needed was to come in and get behind the eight ball right away,'' said tackle Matt Willig after the 49ers were held to their lowest scoring output since a 20-3 loss to Green Bay in 1999. ``Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.''

The 49ers were without cornerback Jason Webster for a second consecutive week because of an ankle injury. Then they lost their other starting cornerback, Ahmed Plummer, three plays into Tampa Bay's second possession when he dislocated his right shoulder while trying to tackle wide receiver Joe Jurevicius.

Plummer's injury was the most devastating but by no means the only one. Left tackle Derrick Deese was knocked out of the game in the first quarter and right guard Ron Stone in the fourth when they aggravated ankle injuries. Safety Zack Bronson, who returned last week from a broken left foot suffered Oct. 14, left in the third quarter for the second consecutive week because of recurring soreness.

``They were in a rough spot today,'' Tampa Bay safety John Lynch said. ``They came in without one of their cornerbacks and then they lost the other one. You pretty much knew at that point we were going to have a chance to be extremely successful offensively, and we were.''

With rookie Mike Rumph starting in place of Webster, Rashad Holman playing in place of Plummer and barely used Duane Hawthorne thrust into the lineup on passing downs, Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson lit up the 49ers' defense, helping Tampa Bay to a 28-6 halftime lead.

The 49ers settled for two Jeff Chandler field goals and were so discombobulated they decided against trying for more when they had the ball with 50 seconds left in the first half. The 49ers ran out the clock -- over the objections of players, including Willig and receiver Terrell Owens -- after Garrison Hearst's 9-yard carry.

``We needed to get this team settled down,'' Mariucci said. ``We just chose to get out of there and receive the opening kickoff in the second half.''

Tampa Bay's relentless defense quashed any thought of a rally like last week's comeback against the New York Giants, when the 49ers overcame a 24-point third-quarter deficit in winning 39-38.

The Bucs held the 49ers to 228 yards, San Francisco's least productive outing of the season. The Bucs forced five turnovers, including two during Tampa Bay's 21-point second quarter. 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia threw three interceptions -- one on the first play of the second half -- and the Bucs blanketed Owens, rendering him a non-factor.

Owens finished with four catches for 35 yards, similar to the unproductive outing he had last season in a first-round playoff loss to Green Bay that resulted in complaints about Mariucci's inability to get him the ball. Owens did not speak to reporters after the latest loss.

``We just ran into a wall that we couldn't knock down,'' Garcia said. ``As much as we believed we could scratch and claw our way back into this thing, they wouldn't allow it. They weren't having anything to do with it, and that's the difference in playing the New York Giants and the Tampa Bay Bucs. You're dealing with a stronger defense.''

Garcia, who wasn't sacked while pulling off the second-greatest comeback in playoff history last week, was taken down four times by the Bucs, lost one of his three fumbles and was under duress from the outset.

He was 22-of-41 passing for 193 yards and finished with a dismal passer rating of 35.9, struggling to dodge a pass rush that kept Garcia from throwing effectively while on the move.

``You didn't expect to see that, did you?'' Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. ``Wrong stadium, wrong defense. That's on the other coast.''

Said Mariucci: ``I'm proud of the guys who sucked it up for so long and were playing through injuries. They gave as much as they could for as long as they could until they couldn't continue.

``I congratulated the team for the season that they did have. It was a tough way to end it. They've got to know that we've made some progress in winning the division and winning a playoff game. And also, we know that we've got work to do.''

Left unsaid was whether Mariucci would be around to continue the job.

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