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The 49ers lost to the Packers. Again.
In a game in which the 49ers could not afford any mistakes, they made just two. But those two – Jose Cortez’s ridiculous 3-iron field goal that I could have blocked, and Jeff Garcia’s tipped interception – were enough. The Packers and the 49ers are two teams that mirror each other in every respect except one: Brett Favre. In the end, Favre hit the big pass – the third down bullet to Antonio Freeman on the final drive that effectively ended the game. Garcia underthrew a wide-open Terrell Owens, allowing Packers corner Mike McKenzie to catch up to Owens and tip the ball.
Favre made his throw. Garcia didn’t make his. In a tight contest, that was the game.
It’s a sad ending to an otherwise successful year. It’s frustrating to watch an inferior team like the Eagles open the playoffs with a home game against the Bucs and a road game against the Bears – two much easier games than the 49ers’ slate of back-to-back road games against the Packers and Rams. But I believe that division champs should be rewarded over wild cards, so I can’t complain too much. With few free agents to address and $6 million in cap room, the 49ers will be intact and more dangerous 2002.
I have no idea how the schedule will work out, but it would be nice if the 49ers could get Dallas, Green Bay, and Oakland on their schedule every year. The 49ers still have fierce rivalries with each team, and they are always entertaining.
End of the Bucs
With their loss to Eagles on Sunday, a chapter will close on one of the top teams of the late nineties, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sure, they could keep winning, but it will be with a new coach and a new approach on offense. The Bucs as we’ve known them for the last five years are done.
Tony Dungy is a gentleman, a defensive mastermind, and one of the class acts of the NFL. He has handled the last few weeks, with rumors of his dismissal swirling around him, with nothing short of dignity. But it’s time for the Bucs and Dungy to part ways. As great as Dungy is with assessing defensive personnel, there have to be some serious questions about his ability to do the same on the other side of the ball. The Buccaneers offense has been terrible, predictable, and poorly utilized. Yet Dungy stubbornly continued to trot the same personnel and philosophy out onto the field.
This is why the Bucs offense fails. Think about this: the Bucs entire offensive gameplan is based upon running the football, yet they have a mediocre offensive line, no feature backs on their roster, and a passing attack that is not capable of sharing the offensive load. Sense a problem here? I agree with ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli, who called Mike Alsott the most overrated back in the league. Alsott is not a fullback. He is a tailback. He is also a terrible blocker and an ineffective runner when he is forced to move around in the backfield. Warrick Dunn is simply not durable enough. He needs another back like Alstot to share the load. And is there any wide receiver who even remotely scares you after Keyshawn Johnson?
So what should the Bucs do on offense? To my untrained eye, they should do the following:
1. Draft/sign a real fullback. Pasquarelli picked Fred Beasley to be the NFC’s fullback, because he knows what a real fullback is. Fullbacks block before they run and catch. Alsott, one of the worst blocking backs (let alone fullbacks) in football, gets voted to the Pro Bowl as a fullback every year. It’s a joke. Of course, Beasley is also a better pass catcher and a serviceable runner.
2. Draft/sign an everydown running back. Dunn and Alsott could actually be effective if the Bucs ran a West Coast offense and found a fullback. In that system, which keeps a defense off-balance with an effective passing attack, those two could run effectively. But the Bucs do not have the personnel to pass the ball that way. So finding themselves a feature back is an easier route to take.
3. Get some younger, fresher bodies on the offensive line. Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy don’t have it any more, and right tackle Jerry Wunsch simply isn’t any good. Kenyatta Walker and Cosey Coleman are very skilled but still youngsters at a position that can take time – and cohesiveness – to excel at.
4. Find a tight end. You would think that any team that emphasizes a short passing attack would find a tight end better than Dave Moore. Yes, good tight ends are always hard to find, but good teams that use them (like the 49ers) always seem to find them.
But Johnson might have summed up the true problem with the Bucs after the loss to Philadelphia: “A lot of guys on this team have a lot of bark, but no bite. Guys have to just shut up and play.”