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Remembering FedEx Field back in Washington, linebacker Derek Smith delivered a sermon after Thursday's practice to drive home one point...all is not lost with this football team.
"Nobody likes to be at the bottom of the barrel all of the time," Smith said, summing up what he and Mike Singletary told the team after practice. "Sooner or later, you have to make a decision. "Are you going to stand up and fight or are you going to turn it in?"
The soft-spoken and reserved Derek Smith has been a defensive stalwart and has made enormous contributions in the 2005 NFL season. A former Washington Redskin and 9 year veteran of the NFL, he knows the best antidote for mediocrity and ineptitude.
The San Francisco 49er defense came into Monster Park last Sunday ranked dead last in the entire NFL. But on this day, they dominated up front and executed well. The defense held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to 275-yards of offense, 78-yards of which came from a Joey Galloway touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. The 49er defense was also relentless in its pursuit of Buccaneer quarterback Chris Simms, where they forced three fumbles and earned a total of five sacks.
On top of all that, they eliminated Tampa Bay's ability to run the ball by limiting running back Carnell Williams to just 20-yards on 13 carries. Compare that to the Redskins game when the sponge-like defense gave up 204-rushing yards.
"I think everybody says their little peace every once in a while to try and fire up the team," San Francisco linebacker Julian Peterson said. "(Derek is) not the most talkative guy, but you know that guy plays with emotion. He's down to fight for us, down to die for us. It's good to see him come out with emotion."
"A lot of the guys called him 'Hydro' because sometimes when he gets real hyper he loses it. He lost it at that time, but it's a good thing because we were all feeling the emotion and we all wanted to go out and set the tone, and I think we did that."
When I think about defense, the one man that always comes to mind is none other than # 97, Bryant Young. This guy is the epitome of the San Francisco 49ers of old and in the late 1980's throwback jerseys he looked like he belonged in the old dynasty. This guy delivered two knockout punches late in the fourth quarter that sealed the fate of the game. With 1:56 left in the game, Tampa Bay trailing 15-10, and the Buccaneers starting on their own 27-yard line, Bryant Young broke through and sacked Chris Simms for a loss of six yards and a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Julian Peterson.
This was an electric play that really cranked up the crowd inside Monster Park. Then with 37 seconds left to play and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at their own 34-yard line Bryant Young again broke free and sacked quarterback Chris Simms for a two yard loss that ended the game in glory for the 49ers.
"I think the key for us was being more detailed in what we were doing in the game plan," defensive lineman Bryant Young said. "We were definitely disappointed in how we played last week. We simplified it and made sure we paid attention to details."
Even the secondary, although severely depleted and playing with youth, executed by limiting Chris Simms to 264 passing yards. Cornerback Shawntae Spencer who was burned twice last week by Santana Moss, had a key interception in the third quarter that entitled kicker Joe Nedney to a 41-yard field goal.
Added cornerback Shawntae Spencer: "Everybody had a bad taste in their mouth after last week because that wasn't us. That didn't represent how we play and didn't represent the organization. We just wanted to come out today and get the taste out of our mouth."
San Jose native Joe Nedney was a lifesaver inside this game by kicking career-high five field goals out of six to make the score 15-10. His excitement has been severely tempered over the years the two years of injuries that encouraged the Tennessee Titans to cut him in a salary-cap move.
Joe has already surpassed expectations from the 49er special teams coaches. Besides attempting six field goals on Sunday, he also kicked off five times and recorded a touchback. His kicks have been strong even with the notorious swirling winds known to haunt Candlestick Park. He looks and executes better than Todd Peterson did last season, and just continues to get better with time. We may have found the steal of the season in acquiring Joe Nedney.
Even linebacker Brandon Moore has been playing at a top level in place of the injured Jeff Ulbrich (lost for the season because of a shoulder injury), by catching an interception where the ball deflected off a referee's head and was caught.
Third-string quarterback Cody Pickett was called into action in this game after Ken Dorsey suffered a high ankle sprain. Pickett led a drive that ended with Joe Nedney kicking his fifth field goal in the game, a 28-yarder with 1:56 remaining in the game.
"I felt good," Pickett said. "My offensive line did such a great job. My running backs did such a great job. I threw one pass. I handed it off to Kevan and Frank Gore and let them do the work."
The crowd at Monster Park chanted his name, "Co-dy! Co-dy!" It all felt like a dream to him because Pickett had just finished making a punt-coverage tackle, then two-plays later reported in at quarterback in place of the injured Ken Dorsey.
"It was pretty wild," Pickett said in his Idaho cowboy drawl. "I went down got lucky enough to make a tackle. Ran off the field and they said, 'You're up for quarterback.' Traded helmets, warmed up and went out there."
What is even more interesting is the way in which the offensive line welcomed Cody Pickett. He has made an impression upon them that is everlasting. Here is a quarterback that rarely gets any repetitions, is willing to play on special teams and make tackles, but is now in charge of the offense. Cody Pickett got a standing ovation not only from the thousands packing Monster Park, but from his teammates as they formed a wall of protection around him. With Alex Smith and Ken Dorsey on the injured list, Cody Pickett is the man in charge. After his performance last Sunday, I give him a big vote of confidence.
Said Head Coach Mike Nolan, explaining why the offensive linemen seemed to be in harmony lining up with Pickett, "He's a tough guy. He's one of them."
"Cody's great to play with," said guard Justin Smiley. "Cody's a competitor. Obviously we have the young quarterback that everybody sees is the guy who's the future of this franchise. But somebody's going to realize the potential Cody has to make plays."
Winning a game, in my opinion, starts and ends with the play of the offensive line. This is something that has been eluding us for most of the 2005 NFL season. Finding the balance and the rhythm that is so crucial to moving the chains and creating first downs has not been done.
If there is ever an iron man that portrays the offensive line for what it truly is, center Jeremy Newberry is that man. Here is a guy that is literally playing on just one leg because there is no cartilage left in his kneecap and the bones are rubbing every time he walks on bone. Excruciating pain is something Jeremy Newberry takes with the grain of salt that it is. The higher cause for him has always been his teammates and the destiny of the team.
Just before halftime, Jeremy went into the middle of the 49ers huddle. From there he looked at running back Kevan Barlow and brokered a deal with him. Newberry told Barlow to rip off a big gain, and Barlow responded as long as the line blocked well that he would.
Kevan Barlow bolted for 29-yards on that next play, the longest run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, and he did so, he said, because "Everything parted like the Red Sea." This big run allowed the 49ers to sneak in one more field goal before halftime and was probably the turning point in the game that sent the Buccaneers flying back home.
"You go tackle Frank Gore and Kevan Barlow," Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden said, icily, when asked about the 49ers running game. "Those are some tough dudes."
"Face it, we didn't tackle well at all," defensive lineman Anthony McFarland said. "If you don't tackle well, you're usually going to lose."
In fact, against the NFL's top-ranked run defense, both Barlow and Frank Gore mashed their way to 141-yards and averaged 4.1-yards per carry.
In the closing minutes of the game, again it was Jeremy Newberry that led the charge for the offensive line to respond and close out the game. He barked instructions and encouragement along the sidelines. His disdain for losing and being known as a team with no heart and no spirit compelled him to ignite the players around him.
"You talk about a guy who is a leader?" Barlow said. "Newberry is out there playing on one leg. He's one of my heroes."
Guess what Kevan; he's always been one of mine as well. He comes from a large and close-knit family and is the voice box of the entire offensive line. Although he played questionable against the Washington Redskins a week earlier he made amends in this game by circling the wagons and executing.
In fact, for the first time the line became a cement wall and no sacks were recorded against us. Ken Dorsey struggled to find a rhythm in this game but Cody Pickett shined like a ray of light. Time of possession was finally won with 30:19 to the Buccaneers 29:41.
The New York Giants pose a whole new set of problems for us. They have a quarterback in Eli Manning that is astute and playing well. Passing against our depleted secondary will be something you can bet he'll target. It will be pressure and sacks that will be counted upon to rattle his cage.
We need to come off this victory with a new attitude and start believing that by paying attention to details and executing, that winning becomes a higher probability.
Let the veterans loose and may their voices be heard yet again as we face a daunting schedule ahead. Lord knows I wish we could keep those old vintage uniforms. Something special came off from them in this victory, and I am convinced of that.