Enough trash to fill dump expected in Bucs vs. 49ers

Likes of Sapp, K. Johnson, Owens can talk the talk, but also walk winning walk

Pro Football

January 12, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - Among Warren Sapp, Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson, the trash talk swirling around Raymond James Stadium in today's San Francisco-Tampa Bay divisional playoff game will be matched only by those athletes' stellar play.

All three talk a good game and have had seasons to back it up. Sapp, the Buccaneers' Pro Bowl defensive tackle and emotional leader of the league's No. 1 defense, spouted off last week about 49ers guards Ron Stone, Jeremy Newberry and Eric Heitman.

"They're going to get lots of that, my friend," Sapp said of his mouth. "Both guards will see plenty of me."

Sapp and his teammates had last week off while San Francisco was earning an emotional wild-card home win Sunday against the New York Giants, a game in which the 49ers overcame a 24-point second-half deficit.

San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia threw for two touchdowns and ran for another while leading his team on scoring drives in a hurry-up offense the last four possessions.

A number of Giants defensive players taunted the 49ers when New York had the big lead, and if the 49ers fall behind again today, they can expect similar treatment, with Sapp leading the way. He has 7 1/2 sacks this season.

"It's something I'm going to allow my offensive line to control and take care of," Garcia said of controlling Sapp. "I can't consume myself with worrying about Warren Sapp in front of me, even as much as he's going to try to make me think about him. There's too much responsibility within me to be concerned with one guy."

Jon Gruden, who is trying to get his team to the NFC title game in his first season as Bucs coach, is taking the opposite attitude regarding Owens.

Owens caught nine passes for 177 yards and a touchdown against the Giants last week. On the 49ers' opening possession, Owens turned a simple 12-yard hitch route into a 76-yard touchdown by breaking two tackles and out-running defenders to the end zone.

He was the most dominant receiver in the NFL this season, making 100 catches for 1,300 yards in 14 games. While some disagree with his antics after touchdowns (pulling a pen from his sock and signing a football on one, dancing with a cheerleader's pompons on another), few teams could stop him from reaching the goal line in the first place.

Owens, who led the NFC with 13 receiving touchdowns, was involved in yet another controversy last week when he was hit with back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for taunting Giants defenders after the 49ers' final touchdown.

"He's a great player," Gruden said. "He's as good a receiver as I've seen. He looks like Shaquille O'Neal out there. He's the biggest guy I've ever seen and he runs like a rocket is attached to him. He is an explosive human being and a clutch playmaker."

What about his other attributes?

"There are certain players more than others that have explosive personalities," Gruden said. "When the juices start pumping and the band starts playing and the crowd gets into it, sometimes emotions flare at different levels. I'm sure Terrell is one of those guys, but what a great performer he is."

Owens is only talking to select members of the media, but his counterpart, Johnson, is speaking to everyone and it is not always positive.

Johnson, as usual, wants to be a bigger part of the offense - in essence, he wants to be what Owens is to San Francisco.

"Everybody just thinks I'm the primary target on the offense," Johnson told the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. "But that's not the case. I'm the backside guy. I get all the trash, the garbage, the clear-outs."

Being the garbage man was enough for Johnson to lead the Bucs with 76 catches for 1,088 yards and five touchdowns. Yet, he wants Gruden to give him more.

"I don't really care what his opinion is," Johnson said of Gruden. "He's the head coach and he's the decision-maker. If he likes me, he likes me. If he doesn't, he doesn't. You don't have to get along with somebody to be a dominating force. I'm not the coach. I've got to do what he puts me in position to do."

Despite Johnson's wariness about his role in the offense, San Francisco likely will target its defensive game-plan around him and quarterback Brad Johnson, who returns after missing two games with a back injury.

This is the first time these teams have met since a 1997 Tampa Bay regular-season win. It also marks the first time Sapp, Owens and Johnson have competed on the same field.

"We know we are in for a dogfight down there," San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci said.

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