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After suffering a major defeat at the hands of the division leading Seattle Seahawks the San Francisco 49ers had an even more daunting task to deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on their menu. The Super Bowl Champions of last season had made it look easy when they steamrolled over us in the post season just last season.
Going up against John Gruden probably one of the best masterminds in the entire league is a task that Dennis Erickson and his staff had to deal with after establishing a 2-4 record already.
Many a fan and many an analyst saw the 49ers as a beached whale after the loss at Seattle because the record of 2-4 portrays an image of complete vulnerability that other teams would feed on in order to obtain victory. Certainly every player on the 49er roster realized that what lied ahead was an uphill climb like never before as a winning streak of 4-5 games would have to be obtained in order to reinstate competitiveness.
Signs of regeneration though were noticed in the second half of that game against the Seattle Seahawks as the 49er offensive line came together and toughened after losing their starting left side in Derrick Deese and Eric Heitmann again. Jeff Garcia suffered one setback after another in the first half of that 20-19 defeat, and was sacked four times, including on three consecutive third-down situations in the first half.
“The first half was a bit of a struggle,” Garcia admitted. “When you lose two starters in the first quarter, it really puts an emphasis on the (players) coming in who have not had as many reps in practice.”
“The road is going to be very difficult ahead. It hasn’t been a real positive start to the season in many ways,” Garcia said. “As much as we’ve been in three of the four losses, we’ve been on the short side, where as last year we were on the positive side of those games.”
The 49ers in that game allowed only a field goal by the Seattle Seahawks in the second half and came back from a 17-3 deficit at halftime to close the gap at 20-19, but ultimately lost the game due to an Owen Pochman missed extra point and Garrison Hearst’s fumble late in the fourth quarter. However even though was frustration and depression by some players right after the game, many were still optimistic in seeing the improvements and adjustments made in the second half that signaled an awakening on the offense.
It was this awakening that the 49ers knew they had to hold on to when considering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on their menu for a showdown in 3-Com Park. Every player even Terrell Owens saw that they had to be focused and media silent in order to concentrate on turning defeat into victory. A team effort was needed more than ever in order for this to happen and Dennis Erickson marveled at how the adjustments that were made in the second half of this game would play a difference in the very next game.
“We’re not going to quit,” 49ers center Jeremy Newberry said. “We’re going to keep fighting. There are no quitters on this team or we would have quit at the end of the first half. We have to keep fighting and doing our thing.”
The urgency for the 49ers was real following this loss to the Seattle Seahawks as well as to all San Francisco fans across the nation that watched it televised on ESPN that night. It was a loss that pricked at the very nerve of our brains that causes us to believe in hopelessness and despair.
But the players were fighting internally as soon as they walked in from off the field and the mood was to concentrate on next week and to work hard over the next few days in preparing for the ultimate buffet with the Super Bowl Champions of the World.
“The only way out is to keep working hard. Our practices have been better, there’s a sense of urgency to what we’re doing,” Bryant Young said. “We’ve got to keep working hard to get us out of this rut.”
One of the concerns going into the game against the Buccaneers was the pass rush that they are able to apply at almost anytime they want to. Expectations were high on getting Derrick Deese and Eric Heitmann back in order to play and solidify the line on the left side, but as the week wore on all indications pointed back to Kwame Harris and Kyle Kosier playing yet again on the left side to start this game.
Sack leaders in Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp stirred fear throughout the league but it was Kwame Harris and Kyle Kosier that kept their composure in preparing for this onslaught as soon as they got back home after the Sunday night loss and concentrated on getting ready to face these very seasoned veterans in a showdown that was termed a must win for the 49ers.
While the offensive line was preparing so was our running backs as the notion of defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers centers mostly around running the ball right down their throats and this was a science that was beginning to be manufactured right before our very eyes.
Throwing the ball on an elite secondary like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is like playing polka with a hand minus an extra card as the Buccaneer defense continues to be a force in turning turnovers and creating havoc behind the line of scrimmage almost at will.
“Everybody knows and everybody heard that our quarterback can’t beat the Buccaneers, our running back has to beat the Buccaneers,” Beasley said. “And the way we run the ball, I think we have a pretty good chance of doing that.”
The Tampa Bay sack machine has produced at least one sack in 65 consecutive games. The NFL record is 68 straight games with a sack, a feat that was accomplished by the Dallas Cowboys from 1976-1980. It is something that the 49er offensive line took with them on a daily routine while preparing for this devastating defense. But it was a task that they embraced in order to turn the skeptics into believers it would be simply worth it in the long run.
The coaching staff under Dennis Erickson worked hard on this up and coming game by preaching fundamentals and keeping the ball secure as well as learning tactics that would create turnovers of our own. Even though we were playing a team well known for their monster of a defense, the San Francisco defense under coordinator Jim Mora Jr. Was playing just as well and wanted this game to be their proving ground so to speak.
“We have to try not to get into third-and-long, or even to make it broader, try not to get into a lot of pure-passing situations,” Erickson said. “Second down is important, first down is important, so you don’t get in third and long. All those things are huge in this football game against a front four like that.”
And the front four Dennis Erickson is referring to are Greg Spires, Warren Sapp, Anthony McFarland and Simeon Rice. Four of the best a defensive line could have and facing an offensive line demolished on the left side of that line.
But it would be this 49er offensive line that would win out in almost every facet of the game as both first round pick Kwame Harris and second-year player left guard Kyle Kosier worked well in tandem together in protecting Jeff Garcia and opening lanes of opportunity for Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow to exploit.
And run the ball they did with enormous credit going to the offensive line and its ability to stay in the game and prevent the mighty front four of the Tampa Bay defense from getting into the head and chest of their starting quarterback in Jeff Garcia.
The Buccaneer defense ranked fourth in the league going into this game is allowing just 92.6-yards a game in rushing. But the San Francisco 49ers staggered the imagination by rushing for 212-yards, averaging 5.2-yards per carry and, in all instances controlled the clock throughout the game.
Overall Game Statistics
Garrison Hearst was on fire in this game and I came away more impressed then I already have been with him as our starting running back. In fact I woke up that Sunday morning saying to my family and myself that Garrison Hearst is going to be the difference in this game, he is going to help us win this game today.
I proceeded to my closet and took out my Garrison Hearst jersey and wore it that afternoon and what did I see? A running back of the ages right before my eyes as Garrison Hearst ran for 117 total yards, and was his first 100-yard game of the 2003 season.
Garrison Hearst averaged 5.9-yards per carry against this Buccaneer defense and had a long run of 18 total yards at one point. He also caught three receptions for 38-yards as well and scored one touchdown. Kevan Barlow also had a productive day with 15 carries for 75-yards and 5.0-yards per carry as well.
The San Francisco 49ers established dominance right from the get go and managed their time wisely throughout the game doing all the small things that would add up to defeating the Super Bowl Champions 24-7. The running game was sound and well executed and was done at the hands of the San Francisco 49er offensive line that finally came together despite injuries and played a game that reopened the flood gates for our staple running attack like no other.
With a productive running game the 49ers were also able to take advantage of soft spots in the Buccaneer secondary by throwing for 253 total yards and establishing 458 total yards of net offense. The San Francisco passing attack was led by a productive Terrell Owens who caught six passes for 152-yards averaging 25.3-yards per catch and scoring one touchdown on a 75-yard run that was utterly spectacular, almost vintage Terrell Owens.
Tai Streets created some attention of his own with three receptions for 34-yards and scoring one touchdown that was an aerial circus as he tried to cross the goal line. Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Brad Johnson did not fair well against the fifth ranked defense in the league going into this game as he threw three interceptions.
Johnson was 21-of-34 for 241-yards and one touchdown and three interceptions, he had a quarterback rating of 56.1%. Jeff Garcia was 15-of-29 for 253-yards and two touchdowns and one interception. He had a quarterback rating of 90.2% and was sacked only once throughout the game.
Interception gurus were Julian Peterson, Mike Rumph and Ahmed Plummer all three contributed greatly towards nailing the coffin on the Tampa Bay Buccaneer offense. Julian Peterson had a high tackle ratio of six and of course his one interception, he was followed by Ahmed Plummer who seems to just get better with every game with four tackles and an interception of his own.
The pass rush by the 49ers was also significant as ex-Buccaneer now 49er Chidi Ahanotu had one sack and Andre Carter had the other. Mike Rumph always considered the weakness of the 49er secondary challenged Buccaneer wide receivers throughout the game and had three sound tackles of his own and one interception.
He played with a new confidence and inspiration that was very evident on the field during this game. Continues improvement on his part could land him a bigger role on this defense and even solidify his hold on the starting side opposite Ahmed Plummer.
“Man there was a lot of screaming,” said a smiling Mike Rumph, whose first career interception was among four turnovers created by the 49ers in their 24-7 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Everybody appreciates how I’ve come along,” Rumph said. “In my first year, they kind of went at me a little but because there’s so many high expectations. But I knew once I got myself established that they would love me, and right now they’re loving me.”
Mike Rumph has been much maligned for giving up big play opportunities and allowing receivers on his routes to obtain positive yardage over his tenure as a 49er. He has had a hard time in shaking off his rookie jacket and putting on the veteran image that fans have been waiting on all along.
“The thing that has helped me more than anything is I’m playing with more confidence,” Rumph said. “Before, I was so uptight out there trying to make plays. It just wasn’t working like that. So I just told myself to have fun and play.”
Mike has a long history of being the weakness on the secondary with how he has played since becoming the starter in place of an injured Jason Webster. He was flagged twice for pass interference in the 49ers loss to the Cleveland Browns a month ago.
He was beaten for a touchdown, and misplayed a zone coverage in the subsequent loss at Minnesota, prompting a tirade on the sideline by secondary coach Brett Maxie that really made Mike think long and hard about his role on this defense.
Back to the offensive line the tenacity that 49er center Jeremy Newberry showed in this game was infectious throughout the line. His tough guy mentality and play at the line of scrimmage assisted the other linemen in becoming more dominant.
Newberry the first 49er I’ve ever had the honor of meeting and shaking hands with is a first class kind of guy that would always take time to shat and socialize with family and fans. “Our goal was to hit them right in the mouth,” said center Jeremy Newberry. “Then when they got up, hit them in the mouth again.”
“We did what we had to do. We were just running right at them. Nothing tricky, just running between the tackles,” Jeremy Newberry said. “We’re pretty powerful inside; we’ve got some big tackles and a fullback that will hit you. We knew we had to establish the run and we did.”
Credit deserves to go where credit is due and let me tell you something about this offensive line. If they play anything like they did right here at home over the remainder of the season, we will always have a very good chance at winning very football game. It took tremendous guts and tenacity to come out of a well-highlighted slump and to deliver a victory over the World Champions in this game.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give our offensive line an 11,” Barlow said. “And Garrison Hearst and I had the mentality, too, that we didn’t want to be stopped. When there were no holes, we made our own. But for the most part, they were there.”
In total first downs we had 22 to the Buccaneers 14. In third down efficiency neither team established a good record with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers completing 3-of-12 for 25% and the San Francisco 49ers completing 3-of-13 for 23%.
And on penalties we played surprisingly well having just three thrown at us for 43 total yards lost. In the time of possession we won that 33:08 to 26:52 and therefore we effectively took away their ability to make any sort of comeback as well as create four total turnovers.
The almost always-annual weakness the San Francisco 49ers find themselves involved in is with their kicking game. Owen Pochman missed his first three field goal attempts in this game from 31, 50 and 39-yards. His 50-yard attempt went wide left and his 31 and 39-yard attempts were blocked because they were too low as his foot could be seen scraping the dirt like he was teeing off for golfing or something.
On his final attempt he finally hit one from 27-yards away and the coaches as well as the fans breathed a little easier knowing the score was acceptable at that time, considering the time left in regulation. He’s missed 5-of-9 field goal attempts since debuting with a 4-for-4 performance in Week three against the Cleveland Browns.
This is certainly not an upgrade over Jeff Chandler and may not be the answer we need for the remainder of the season, considering that every point in this league is so precious.
“I was just glad he knocked the last one in,” Erickson said. “It’s just like anybody. When you miss something like that, obviously your confidence is shaken. But he will get that back this week in practice.”
First Quarter Highlights
On Tampa Bay’s first drive of the game Brad Johnson throws a pass to Michael Pittman that is intercepted by 49er cornerback Ahmed Plummer at the Buccaneer 38-yard line. On San Francisco’s drive the 49ers pound the run with ferocious blocking and Garrison Hearst scores a touchdown from seven yards out, making the score 7-0 49ers.
On Tampa Bay’s third possession of the quarter from a drive generating at their 21-yard line Brad Johnson hits wide receiver Keenan McCardell for a 75-yard bomb that he scores on to even the score at 7-7 tie.
Second Quarter Highlights
On a drive that originated on the San Francisco 19-yard line because of a Sean Moran roughing the passer penalty the 49ers drive all the way down to the Tampa Bay 14-yard line where Jeff Garcia hits Tai Streets for a 14-yard touchdown. The 49ers take the lead 14-7. On Tampa Bay’s first drive of the quarter Brad Johnson is sacked by 49er defensive end Andre Carter that causes a fumble but the Buccaneers recover.
Jeff Garcia takes over at our own 20-yard line and drives the 49ers down to the Buccaneer 13-yard line where Owen Pochman misses a 31-yard field goal that is blocked by Warren Sapp.
On San Francisco’s third possession starting on our own 25-yard line Jeff Garcia hits Terrell Owens for a 75-yard touchdown that lights up 3-Com Park like a Christmas Tree. The 49ers now lead the Buccaneers 21-7. On the 49ers fourth possession Jeff Garcia gets sacked at his own 35-yard line that forces the 49ers to punt the ball, in turn the Buccaneers go three and out and give the ball back to us.
On the final drive of the half we start at our 42-yard line and drive all the way down to the Tampa Bay 32-yard line, where Owen Pochman attempts a 50-yard field goal that sails wide left for no good, leaving the score 21-7 at halftime.
The mood was one of jubilation as they made their way to the locker rooms but the mood was also one of concern knowing that the Buccaneers could comeback into this with renewed vigor after halftime.
Third Quarter Highlights
On Tampa Bay’s first possession of the game at their own 37-yard line Brad Johnson tries to hit Keenan McCardell but is intercepted by 49er cornerback Mike Rumph who returns it for 12 total yards. This sets up the next San Francisco drive that starts at the Buccaneer 39-yard line and Jeff Garcia drives the ball down to the 21-yard line where Owen Pochman attempts a 39-yard field goal that is again blocked and in the dirt.
Tampa Bay takes over on their 30-yard line and drive down to the 49er 26-yard line where a pass from Johnson to Jones is fumbled with 49er linebacker Jamie Winborn covering the ball at their 33-yard line.
This sets up the next 49er drive with Jeff Garcia taking the team down to the Buccaneer 37-yard line where he fumbles the ball and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Rhonde Barber covers it. This sets up a failed Tampa Bay drive and results in no change in scoring at the end of the quarter.
Fourth Quarter Highlights
On the opening drive by San Francisco Jeff Garcia and the running game make it down to the Tampa Bay 18-yard line where Jeff Garcia throws a pass to Garrison Hearst that is intercepted by Buccaneer defensive end Simeon Rice. This sets up Tampa Bay’s drive down to the San Francisco 25-yard line where Brad Johnson throws a pass to Keenan McCardell that is intercepted by 49er linebacker Julian Peterson.
San Francisco starts their second possession at their own 43-yard line and drives the ball to the Buccaneer nine-yard line where Owen Pochman finally delivers a 27-yard field goal to make the score 24-7 49ers.
Down to the two-minute warning the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin their last drive under back-up quarterback Shawn King. They make it down to the San Francisco 33-yard line where time expires and the 49ers win a big game right before their home crowd.
Overall Game Analysis
What drove this team to the brink to utterly not accept defeat for the season? Lord knows after losing in Seattle it would’ve been easy to do. But the San Francisco 49ers are so much better than that and the players still believe that we are in this season for the long haul. If we can continue to win before our bye week with three straight victories we will be looking very good in reversing our fortunes.
Dominance by our offensive line spells it all out and the performance of our extraordinary defenses both in the running game and passing game. The Buccaneers only managed 68 total yards in rushing against our defense but did produce 265-yards in passing. With this great defense though we managed to turn the ball over four times and utterly bring the World Champions down to their knees.
The offensive line under the leadership of center Jeremy Newberry delivered a knockout blow to the starting defensive four for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They protected Jeff Garcia and made the running game click on all cylinders as they pulled and blocked with surgical precision for most of the game. I have to take my hat off to them and delivering the classic rushing attack that exemplifies us as 49ers.
Coaching was noticeably better and the play calling as well. Allowing Jeff Garcia more freedom to call plays at the line of scrimmage is a huge positive for the line and the team as a whole. Sticking with the running game allowed us to make some critical throws down the field for positive yardage as well a classic in the West Coast offense we all like to see.
Fred Beasley smacked defensive linemen right in the face and not a lot is made of this either in hindsight. We all must remember that whatever our talented running backs manufacture for yardage is usually based upon how well Fred Beasley cleared a path for them to run through.
Finding one-on-one matches proved to be enlightening as well enabling our offense to find multi=purpose receivers in all areas and to spread the field better. A successful running game usually tends to tilt the scale this way for us in the positive.
Delivering execution as well must be noted in this game with the low number of penalty flags thrown our way. Green linemen are getting better at executing their plays and veterans are always improving with each and every day.
“This was a big game. Our backs were against the wall,” defensive end Andre Carter said. “This could be and can be the turning point of the season. Everything clicked yesterday. We’ve got to take it week for week and get a win from here on out.”
We cannot look past the Arizona Cardinals at the St. Louis Rams. We must stay focused on the game at hand and win each and every contest. I am confident that is what will be emphasized through practices and from the coaching staff as a whole. Arizona has beaten Green Bay already and is due for another upset soon.
We don’t want to be one of their victims in that category. The team must maintain its discipline and remain very competitive in getting complete results out on the field if we are to take the next step. I have hope now and with good reason, we all do so let’s sit back and enjoy the ride because it just got more interesting.