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49ers end season on a painful note

Jan 17, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Nothing could have been worst then to see the endless waving of Tampa Bay Buccaneer flags literally thousands of them in victory. I was witness to their celebration when the game first started and to them again when the game finally and mercifully came to a close. It was a Raymond James Stadium jamboree as endless Buccaneer fans showed to support their home team in their quest for the Super Bowl.

For San Francisco it was a dream come true after a miracle finish just one week before against the New York Giants in Candlestick Park. The divisional playoffs was a milestone we thought we just might not see, but we made it despite the endless scrutiny from broadcasters and sports analysts to the contrary. It was a time for 49er fans all over the world to sense the remarkable achievement despite the devastating injuries and mediocre scoring efficiency.

The San Francisco 49ers had arrived under very maligned Steve Mariucci to do battle with the very best defense in the NFL. It would be a mountain of a task to tear away at that fiber called the Buccaneer defense as they would render our entire team a day they would rather forget for a long time to come.

Everything that could have gone wrong for us right from the beginning did, and everything we hoped to attain we did not. It was like watching a mirage on a very hot day and you are gasping for thirst in a dessert scorched from the heat. You keep walking and wishing that something would come into your field of vision an oasis that would re-nourish your senses.

And then bang you find yourself shaking your head after you thought you saw something but after clearing your eyes it still wasn’t there. That is what my experience of this game was really like, one that I would rather forget and never watch again.

We seemed to crumble humbly at the very feet of a monster too immense for us to fathom; we relinquished our fight and waited for the very end to finally arrive.

Mercifully it finally did arrive and because of everything negative we had to endure throughout the season it seemed like an enormous weight was lifted in realizing that the shackles had been released. We came into this game still limping and bleeding with injuries, many of the players played this game again as usual in immense pain.

49er fans and coaches knew that this would be a difficult task at best knowing that the team was entering this contest in less than desirable overall health. Depth that is quality depth would play a big factor as well as starters would be lost to the juggernaut of the Buccaneer onslaught.

I cannot lie and say that I am not disappointed as I am simply because I honestly hoped that we would’ve at least kept the score relatively close. But as the game progressed and the inability of anyone to make a difference transpired I simply prayed that the game would end rapidly.

At the end of the game all the pain and frustration of the crunching loss came to a head, dejected and beaten players hung their heads in agony and disgust. And then they quickly exited to the locker rooms like it was a safe haven from the endless Buccaneer chants that sounded throughout the stadium.

The 49ers accomplished almost nothing in this game except to highlight the pressing need to continue building a team that could legitimately contend to advance further into these playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneer defense was just that damn good, they held Jeff Garcia to 193 total yards and they made his outing a day he would rather forget forever as he threw three interceptions and fumbled three other times during the game. His elite status as a quarterback on this team was tarnished and damaged because of these costly mistakes.

But what was so typical and honest Jeff put the blame soundly on his chest and recognized the mistakes that he was accountable for. He put the playoff loss on his shoulders and carried it like a leader.

Was it all Jeff Garcia’s fault? Of course not it was a team collective fault in the overall sphere of things, it was both mental and physical as the bye week that should’ve been ours was a benefit that the Buccaneers had right from the start.

Jeff probably has never had a more devastating outing than this in his entire career as he finished the game going 22-of-41 for 193 total yards and a quarterback rating of 35.9%. A pathetic game in all senses for a quarterback that is making his third appearance in this year’s Pro Bowl.

His receivers also felt the hot breath of the Buccaneer defense as they could do little to help a quarterback dying at the hands of attacking linemen and defensive backs as he searched for an opening of opportunity.

Tai Streets had five receptions for 62 total yards and playmaker Terrell Owens was effectively taken away as he had only four receptions for 35 total yards. A reflection from a playoff game one year ago against the Green Bay Packers.

The running game was absolutely destroyed as Garrison Hearst was held to 10 carries for 55 total yards and Kevan Barlow was held to three carries for just seven total yards.

The San Francisco offense well known throughout it’s years as one of the very best in balance and scoring was no where to be found on this day. Jeff was not himself even though he had a cold he never seemed to turn it around at any given point during the game was one turnover after another took place.

The San Francisco defense was decimated with injuries and couldn’t even stop a Buccaneer offense well known for its lack of scoring efficiency. It was playing handicapped because it had lost its premier-starting trio on Jason Webster, Ahmed Plummer and eventually even Zack Bronson.

What was even worst was that the pathetic pass rush when it was needed the most never transpired, Julian Peterson accounted for the only sack during this game. Without any significant push from our pass rush a depleted secondary covered with rookie and lackluster defensive backs was picked apart like buzzards feeding on a dead zebra carcass on the plains of Africa.

San Francisco’s special teams a glaring weakness all season long continues to haunt us with horrible punts to making mistakes and causing turnovers. With a special teams unit like this we absolutely shoot ourselves in the head right from the very beginning of each and every game.

Is there any solace to our season? Yes there is in becoming division champions again that was a breakout of our every year boredom and the fact that we advanced further into the playoffs despite a multitude of nagging injuries.

Even though we play in a weak division the fact that we rose above all the other teams is still a foundation we can be proud of.

And depth players continued to develop into better sound players as they were forced to step up many times during the season to make a difference when starters were rendered incapable. We improved on all fronts when you really examine it as the team made progressions over last season and added valuable statistics that will only become more advanced goals for us to improve upon.

“They are a good defensive football team,” Garcia said of the NFL’s top-ranked overall defense. “Yeah, I would have liked to play better. I don’t think I played up to the level that I think I’m capable of playing. But that’s more a tribute to them than what we didn’t do.”

The nightmarish game that was played right before my eyes pained me as a 49er fan. We all know that we are championship material, heck the San Francisco 49ers are all about that and always will be. We hold this team accountable on an everyday basis in our minds as still being one of the best in the NFL. We do that because of the five Lombardi trophies that decorate the entrance at the team headquarters in Santa Clara, California.

We expect nothing less than excellence from this franchise, but at the same time we have to come to terms in all of our minds that this day in age in the NFL signals shifts in what champions are.

The timetable and opportunity to strike and become a Super Bowl contender is severely limited now due to the salary cap, parity among the teams in the league absolutely exists folks. We have to get used to it because the facts are real and not imaginary.

As much as we wish and hope that we can become the San Francisco 49ers of old, it will probably never happen at least on the long-term scale that we had it at in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Can we sample a taste of that on the short term? Yes we all hope we can me included and I do believe that we will get there. Many of you don’t believe though that it can happen under Steve Mariucci.

The fact is it can happen under Mariucci and should happen under him, because he gives us the best chance at winning despite what you read and complain about. Yes Steve Mariucci has his faults and he does make mistakes, but he has this team believing in him and the future.

It isn’t coaching that is the crisis on this team it is consistency, execution and quality depth. To a certain extent coaching is responsible for each and every one of these categories but I know we still field some of the best coaches in the business on this franchise. Unfortunately he will not get another chance with his dismissal.

Just like all of you I have great expectations of this franchise, Lord knows that ownership does also as they try to work within the framework of the league and see flexibility as being somewhat more limited like never before.

We all want the same things and that is to add to the championships already in storage at team headquarters for all to see. Our San Francisco 49ers mean more than just a favorite team, they represent a part of our lives that we all want to become.

Champions of our own lives and respected individuals to our own peers and family around us, we could not want anything as much as we all want that. The San Francisco 49ers represent that in my life and they are the outlet to all my sanity, I find it intriguing to now the players and to see what makes them click and how they handle matters of life. I find it stimulating to know these things as it makes watching the game a bit more personal.

So where do you elevate your beloved team in your lives? What do you get from being a faithful 49er fan? I know that I am nourished and fed in reading and studying the very facet of 49er history and present, I find myself consumed in knowing more and more about my beloved team that I have followed since I was 11 and 12 years old.

We lost this game under a barrage of pewter and red, it came down on us relentlessly and with such force that it forced us to realize that we just aren’t ready yet to take that next step. It is an ugly reality that so many good teams in the NFL are dealt with as they pack up after losing to end their hard work all season long.

Thoughts of tomorrow seem irrelevant as you try and find a way through the murkiness of the emptiness and loss. You still wish you had a second chance to redeem yourself but know there is none coming.

“I was accountable for four turnovers, and that’s just not me. That’s not my style,” Garcia said. “They helped create those, though. It’s just one of those things where we have to be better with the football. It got to a point where it was difficult.”

Ahmed Plummer who suffered at the hands of New York Giant wide receiver Amani Toomer one week ago was looked on as the only shutdown corner coming into this game.

But with not nearly four minutes into the game Ahmed Plummer exited the game for good after he helped in making a tackle on Buccaneer wide receiver Joe Jurevicius. He suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the contact and never came back into the game forcing Rashad Holman and Duane Hawthorne to resume his duties alongside rookie Mike Rumph.

The injuries did not stop there because Zack Bronson began experiencing pain in his once broken foot that had cost him three months of playing time already. Tony Parrish banged up himself was left as the only original starting defensive back. The image was nothing new to Parrish as he has dealt with players leaving because of injury all during the season.

“Nothing new,” Parrish said with a shrug. “There was no stress on me. I just made the adjustment, like I’ve been doing all year. We didn’t go out with any packages that we didn’t already have in the game.”

But the influx of back-up personnel did have an effect on the game ultimately; injuries usually do that even though you hope that your back up will play a sound game. Most of the time the back-ups have had only limited playing and practice time, and most of them have never been in a real big game like this one was.

“That’s difficult,” 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. “It affects more than just that position. It affects what you call on defense. These are guys who have seen limited practice time. You can only ask only so much of them.”

“Everything affects everything else,” Mora said. “Your plan changes as the people on the field change and the circumstances change. You have to change with it. You always have to have contingencies.”

Zack Bronson so much a part of this team this season before the broken foot was very upset to have to come out of the game. His plan was to be a big factor on defense in this ultimate game because it was the playoffs. The healing process on his foot had been long and the torture it had gone through in this game was starting to unravel the actual healing of his once damaged foot.

“You have no idea how frustrating and disappointing it is,” Bronson said. “You want to be out there helping your teammates so bad, it hurts, even more than the injury. That’s the worst kind of pain.”

I couldn’t have said that better myself, and I believe honestly that is what many of our injured players said to themselves this season. The culmination of all the injuries and the lack of execution because of that played an important role in the failure of this game and many other games this season. I will review this game as I find it still important to see how the game developed and transpired it is a game we must accept and move on from.

Divisional Playoffs (Loss) Tampa Bay Buccaneers over San Francisco 49ers 31-6

“Three years ago, you guys were all writing that we were written off, that we wouldn’t come out of the grave for years,” York said. “We came out last year and we were a shock. This year, we win the western division for the first time in I don’t know how many years (since 1997), and we win our first playoff game.” “If you look at it in context of where we were, we’ve had a very good year.”

“It’s a tough way to end it, certainly,” Mariucci said. “I’m sure it will sit with all of us for a while. They’ve got to know, and I think they do, we made progress in winning the division and a playoff game.”

Tampa Bay wins the toss and elects to receive, so Jeff Chandler kicks the ball 62 total yards to Aaron Stecker who returns it 22 total yards to the Buccaneer 30-yard line where Bard Johnson sets up the Buccaneer offense. His first two throws fall incomplete to Keyshawn Johnson and Michael Pittman.

On third down he hits Joe Jurevicius for 15 total yards but fails to connect with Johnson. Michael Pittman gets the carry to the left for just one total yard and on third down Johnson tries to hit Keyshawn but the pass is intercepted by 49er cornerback Rashad Holman who returns it 13 total yards.

San Francisco with an early opportunity go out with Jeff Garcia but he fails to find Hearst on the first pass and Hearst runs up the middle for five total yards. After that Garcia is suddenly sacked for minus five total yards and on top of that Billy LaFleur punts just 14 total yards to the Buccaneer 26-yard line where it is downed.

It is on this punt that begins to make you wonder why we have LaFleur anyways, it becomes apparent more and more that special teams is one of the main factors for the demise of our team.

Tampa Bay comes out with Pittman hitting the right end for one total yard and Johnson failing to find Johnson. With a third down He hits Jurevicius for 13 total yards and big Mike Alstott catches a pass for 17 more yards and runs up the middle for five more yards.

On the next two possessions Johnson fails to connect with Ken Dilger and Keenan McCardell, but a penalty falls on Julian Peterson for defensive pass interference and creates a first down.

Mike Alstott tries the middle for no gain and Dudley drops a pass from Johnson. On third down though again Brad Johnson finds Keyshawn Johnson for 17 total yards and Pittman runs up the middle for four more yards. On the San Francisco seven-yard line Alstott bangs his way after a catch for five more yards. On third-and-one the only logical thing to do is to give to Alstott again who runs to the right for a two-yard touchdown.

Mike Gramatica’s extra point is good after 12 plays and 74 total yards the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the first lead 7-0. Gramatica the kicked the ball 57 total yards to Paul Smith who returned it 18 total yards to the San Francisco 31-yard line.

Here Jeff Garcia goes back to work with a pass to Eric Johnson for two total yards and J.J. Stokes for six more yards. On third an short Garcia hits Tai Streets for four more yards and a first down, and Kevan Barlow ran up the middle for seven more yards.

Finally the offense is moving and there is reason to believe that there will be an answer to the touchdown by Alstott. Jeff Garcia hit Owens for 10 total yards and hit Tai Streets for four more yards. On second down Barlow hit the middle for two total yards and Jeff hit Tai Streets for 30 more yards.

This put San Francisco on Tampa Bay’s four-yard line the deepest it had gone yet, but Garcia failed to find J.J. Stokes and Barlow was stuffed for minus two total yards. In a desperate bid Garcia tried to find Owens in the end zone and failed forcing Jeff Chandler to kick the field goal from 24-yards out and hit it. So after 12 plays and 63 total yards San Francisco was on the board 7-3 Buccaneers.

Jeff Chandler then kicked the ball 66 total yards to A. Stecker who returned it 19 total yards to the Tampa Bay 23-yard line. Mike Alstott runs to the left for four total yards and catches a pass from Johnson for five more yards. Alstott then runs again to the right for four total yards and Johnson is forced to throw away a pass under pressure from 49er Bryant Young.

On second down Alstott leads the charge again up the middle for five total yards but a penalty falls on Tamp Bay for illegal motion. Brad Johnson hits Johnson for 14 total yards and Alstott runs at the right for four more yards.

With a new first down the Tamp Bay offense continues to churn as Johnson fails to find McCardell but hits Keyshawn for 28 total yards all the way to the 49er 23-yard line but a five-yard penalty on the Buccaneers drives them back to the 28-yard line.

Pittman runs to the right but is stuffed for minus two total yards and connects with Brad Johnson for 10 more yards. On the San Francisco 20-yard line Brad Johnson dropped back and found Joe Jurevicius in the end zone for a touchdown, Gramatica’s extra point was good so after 11 plays and 77 total yards the Buccaneers went up 14-3 in the second quarter.

Gramatica kicks the ball 63 total yards to 49er Vinny Sutherland who makes a nice return of 32 total yards to the Tampa Bay 46-yard line. A penalty falls on the Buccaneers for unnecessary roughness that helps the 49er cause. Garrison Hearst tries the right side for nine total yards and the Buccaneers get another penalty for unnecessary roughness that was clear and evident afflicted on Hearst.

Now on the Buccaneer 22-yard line you would think we had a golden opportunity but Jeff Garcia on the next three possessions fails to connect. Tai Streets was thrown to twice and Terrell Owens once, the Tampa Bay defense stiffened and ended any hope of the end zone.

Jeff Chandler is brought in and kicks a 40-yard field goal to add to the score after five plays and 24 total yards and a penalty the 49ers add to their record 14-6 Buccaneers. Jeff Chandler then kicks the ball 62 total yards to Stecker who muffs the catch but recovers it for a 31-yard return at the Tampa Bay 48-yard line.

The Buccaneers have great field position as usual and Brad Johnson tries Jurevicius but fails to connect and then a penalty helps their cause as defensive pass interference is called on Tony Parrish. This call in my opinion was a blown call as I saw no evidence at all to this call.

Now on the San Francisco 16-yard line Mike Alstott hits the middle for four total yards and then Brad Johnson hits R. Dudley in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown. Martin Gramatica’s extra point is good so after two plays and 52 total yards and one penalty Tampa Bay goes up 21-6.

Martin Gramatica then kicked the ball 52 total yards to Paul Smith who returned it 13 total yards but a penalty came down on Tampa Bay for being offside and a re-kick was done. He then kicked 69 total yards to Vinny Sutherland who then fumbles the ball at the San Francisco 37-yard line and is recovered by Tampa Bay. This was as bad as our special teams units get folks as I was steaming mad at making such an ignorant mistake.

Tampa Bay resumed control at the San Francisco 49-yard line with Pittman hitting the middle but was stuffed for minus one total yard and Johnson passing to Ken Dilger twice for 14 total yards.

With a first down Johnson failed to connect with Pittman and a penalty came down on Tampa Bay for offensive holding as well. Pittman resumed the carry for two total yards towards the right end and on the next two consecutive plays Johnson failed to connect. But a penalty came down on San Francisco on Bryant Young for defensive holding that was again in my opinion anything but holding, giving Tampa Bay new life.

On the San Francisco 39-yard line Mike Alstott hits the right side for two total yards and Johnson fails to connect with McCardell. On the next play Johnson is sacked by Julian Peterson for a loss of nine total yards and fumbles the ball but is recovered by Pittman.

This finally forces Tampa Bay to punt 28 total yards to a fair catch by Sutherland but a penalty falls on Tampa Bay for offensive holding that causes the Buccaneers to re-kick. Tom Tupa punts the ball again 51 total yards but this time it is downed by the Buccaneers at our three-yard line. This again puts us in a hole that is crippling to our offense as they have struggled to go anywhere in the first half.

On the first play of the drive Jeff Garcia gets us out of the hole with a completion to Terrell Owens for 13 total yards but on the next play Garcia throws to Tai Streets and the pass in intercepted and downed at the 49er 26-yard line. The two-minute warning sounds just in time to remind us of how futile our offensive efforts have been since the game started.

Brad Johnson comes out to begin the drive but fails to connect with McCardell but Pittman hits the left side for a gain of 22 total yards. Pittman then resumed up the middle for two more yards and Alstott lands the breaking blow with a two-yard run to the left for the touchdown. Gramatica’s extra point is good and after four plays and 26 total yards following the interception Tampa Bay goes way up to 28-6 Buccaneers.

With just under a minute left in the first half Gramatica kicks the ball 64 total yards to Sutherland who returns it 25 total yards to the San Francisco 31-yard line. Garrison Hearst gets the only play with a run up the middle for nine total yards and the half expires.

The first half told an interesting story as the 49ers committed many mistakes and their defense was constantly out on the field with bruised and battered players. The Buccaneers established total domination with 16 first downs to San Francisco’s five. The Buccaneers also had a third down efficiency of 80% compared to our 40%.

In passing Johnson clearly was having a field day with 170 total yards compared to our 69 total yards and in rushing we established only 30 total yards to Tampa Bay’s 56 total yards. Of course fumbles and interceptions played into the score as it stood and the 49ers found themselves in a black hole similar to last week, but against a much better team.

With the start of the third quarter San Francisco elected to receive with Gramatica kicking the ball 61 total yards to Paul Smith who returned it 27 total yards to the 49er 36-yard line. Jeff Garcia on the first play tried to connect with Terrell Owens and was intercepted; it was another costly mistake at a tike where momentum was sorely needed in order to change.

The Buccaneers began at the 49er 37-yard line and Stecker ran to the left for seven total yards and Alstott went up the middle for one more yard. With a third and short John son hit Keyshawn Johnson for 11 total yards and Pittman picked up four more yards on the right side. Johnson on the next play not finding anyone ran up the middle for five total yards and Alstott got the next two carries for just one total yard.

With a second down and Tampa grinding the clock Pittman hit the right side but was stuffed and Johnson ran to the right side but gained only seven more yards without a first down. Tampa decided to kick a field goal and Gramatica nailed the 19-yard field goal putting them up 31-6. The drive ended after 10 plays and 36 total yards and left the 49er defense exhausted and dumbfounded to find them stuck to the field so many times.

Gramatica then kicked the ball 55 total yards to Paul Smith who returned it 29 total yards to the San Francisco 44-yard line. Here Jeff Garcia goes into the shotgun and fumbles the snap and recovers it but is sacked at the very same time for a loss of eight total yards. Hard luck just continues to find our star quarterback again.

Jeff tries to salvage the drive with a pass to Tai Streets for eight total yards but fails on another pass to Owens forcing them to punt yet again for 52 total yards where it goes out of bounds at the Tampa Bay four-yard line. For once stuck deep in their own territory Mike Alstott hits the middle for four total yards and Pittman takes up and hits the right end for two more yards.

Faced with a third down Brad Johnson fails to connect with Alstott forcing them to punt 52 total yards to Vinny Sutherland who returns it 31 total yards but a penalty no surprise falls on Mike Rumph for an illegal block above the waist.

Jeff Garcia took up position at the 49er 28-yard line and fails to connect with Eric Johnson and then Hearst hit the middle for five more yards. With a third down looming Garcia managed to find J.J. Stokes for seven total yards but a penalty falls on San Francisco for a false start. On the first down Hearst finds a crease on the left side for 14 total yards and then catches a pass for five more yards.

On first down Jeff Garcia finds Tai Streets for 16 total yards and Hearst hits the middle for three more yards. On second down and on the Tampa Bay 27-yard line Jeff Garcia is suddenly sacked for a loss of eight total yards and fumbles the ball, which does Tampa Bay recover.

Tampa on their 35-yard line resumes control yet again and turns to M. Alstott who steamrolls for 20 total yards on the left side and Pittman hitting the right side for no gain. Johnson then hit K. Johnson for 15 total yards and between Pittman and Alstott advance four more yards. On third down Johnson fails to find K. Johnson resulting in them attempting a field goal from 45 total yards which goes wide right.

San Francisco now in the fourth quarter takes up at their 35-yard line and on the first play Jeff is sacked for a loss of six total yards and fumbles but it is recovered back at the 49er 28-yard line. The play was challenged but upheld and a timeout charged Hearst then hit the middle for five total yards.

On third-and-12 Hearst went to the shotgun and found Beasley for a total of three yards resulting in us punting 37 total yards to K. Williams who returns it 12 total yards to the Tampa Bay 39-yard line.

Jeff hit Cedric Wilson for 2 total yards and a penalty fell on Matt Willig for a false start. On the next play Jeff hit Hearst for 13 total yards and a timeout was called. On second down Jeff hit Owens for nine total yards but on the next three plays he spiked it once and failed to connect with anyone. On the last play of the game he failed to find J.J. Stokes and the game was over and so was our chance to ultimately save our pride and our head coach.

In first downs Tampa Bay racked up 21 compared to our 14. On third down efficiency Tampa Bay had a 59% completion to our 25%. This spoke volumes about the differences in defenses and the Buccaneers had 121 total yards rushing compared to 62 total yards for us. In passing the Buccaneers had 208 total yards compared to our 166 total yards.

This game was a horror classic if I ever saw one, as we failed in almost everything we attempted to do. Up against the best defense in the league was a task too heavy for us to undertake in the state of healthiness we found ourselves facing on a continuous basis.

As we speak here news of Steve Mariucci’s dismissal sends shockwaves throughout my body as to the ugliness of the way the dismissal took place. Many versions of the story continue to be orchestrated all around the media world.

I find it most disturbing that Steve is accused of saying things he never did say and find the logic in truth really lies with him. I thought I would never have to say that I question the integrity and morality of Mr. John York but I do now.

Steve may have not been the perfect coach and he wasn’t to many a fan, but he was with his players and his assistants. I must say I was fond of him as well because I always saw the fire and passion in his eyes and facial expressions for this game.

He is a great family man and a definite plus to the Bay Area Community, he was a man of honesty and integrity and loved what he did for a living. I say goodbye Mariucci and wish you the very best as I hope that you will live and prosper with a franchise that appreciates your full worth.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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