Tampa Bay shows 49ers its staying power, 31-6

Under Gruden, Bucs aren't hurrying to playoff exit

January 13, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers brought in Jon Gruden because they were tired of quick playoff exits.

Whether or not the first-year Bucs coach is comfortable with the focus on himself, Tampa Bay is sticking around this postseason.

Tampa Bay routed the San Francisco 49ers, 31-6, yesterday at Raymond James Stadium, a game that was essentially decided when the Bucs scored touchdowns on four of their first six possessions and built a 22-point halftime lead. The win advanced the Bucs, who have never been to a Super Bowl, to the NFC championship game, where they will face the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium on Sunday.

The Eagles eliminated the Bucs in the first round of the playoffs the past two seasons, leading to the firing of Tony Dungy and the arrival of Gruden. But when that little bit of history was raised during yesterday's post-game news conference, Gruden showed his annoyance with some of his trademark facial contortions - usually reserved for the sidelines - and a curt answer.

"I know why ownership brought me here," Gruden said. "I know why every owner brings every coach in, to advance and win championships. I'm sensitive, and again, I'm sorry how I got here. I don't know what more I can say. I'm succeeding a guy that did a tremendous job here.

"We're doing everything we can to win games and put a championship in our locker room, and that's all I care to say about that."

Their recent playoff failings seemed far from the minds of Bucs players, however, who relished the way they dismantled the NFC West champions.

From the onset, San Francisco looked emotionally spent on offense and overmatched on defense. The 49ers went three-and-out on their first possession after an interception gave San Francisco the ball at Tampa Bay's 40.

Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson, who missed the final two games of the regular season with a back injury, then engineered a 12-play, 74-yard drive that ended in Mike Alstott's touchdown run in which he barreled over the right side of the line and crashed through linebacker Saleem Rasheed.

San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia helped cut the deficit to 7-3 on a 12-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Jeff Chandler's 24-yard field goal on the next possession, but it was all Bucs from that point on.

Johnson showed little rustiness in torching a 49ers secondary that played most of the game without both its starting cornerbacks. Ahmed Plummer, San Francisco's best cover guy, left the game with a dislocated right shoulder during Tampa Bay's second possession, and the team was already without injured Jason Webster.

"If healthy bodies are what you consider gas, then, yeah, we ran out of healthy bodies," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said.

The Bucs took advantage by throwing 25 times in the first half for 170 yards. Johnson's best throw came on a 20-yard corner route to Joe Jurevicius in which he placed the ball just over the goal line and 5 feet from the sideline, allowing Jurevicius to drag both his feet on the catch for a 14-3 lead five minutes into the second quarter.

Johnson then hit tight end Rickey Dudley on Tampa Bay's next possession for a 12-yard touchdown and a 21-6 lead midway through the second quarter.

"It was a total team effort, and we were very complementary of each other," said Johnson, who was 15 of 31 for 196 yards and threw just the one interception. "Usually, we don't turn the ball over, and the defense creates turnovers for us."

The Bucs defense certainly did against San Francisco, forcing Garcia into three interceptions and a lost fumble. Garcia's most costly turnover came with his team down 21-6 and just over two minutes left in the first half, when he attempted to hit a well-covered Tai Streets.

Cornerback Ronde Barber tipped the pass in the air and linebacker Derrick Brooks, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, made the interception at the 49ers' 26-yard line. Four plays later, Alstott scored his second touchdown and gave the Bucs a 28-6 lead with 50 seconds left in the half.

"We just couldn't get anything to go right, and that's a credit to them," said Garcia, who was 22 of 41 for 193 yards and sacked four times.

Any thoughts of another miracle comeback like the one staged a week ago, when the 49ers erased a 24-point, second-half deficit to defeat the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs, were quickly erased on the first play of the second half.

Garcia attempted to hit Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens - a nonfactor with four catches for 35 yards - in the middle of the field but was picked off by nickel back Dwight Smith at the 49ers' 43.

Two of the next three San Francisco possessions ended in three-and-outs, the other with a fumble and another on downs after four plays. San Francisco managed 228 yards for the game against the league's No. 1 defense.

"I told the boys when we went to work on last Wednesday that somebody scheduled the No. 1 defense at 1 o'clock," Bucs tackle Warren Sapp said. "Are y'all ready? And we was."

Now, the Bucs, with their usual ravenous defense and the Gruden-revamped offense, will travel to a place where they have been manhandled the past two playoff meetings.

"Anytime you can win a playoff game in the second round by 25 points, play good on offense, good on defense and make some timely plays along the way, it's exciting and opens our eyes, not just to our coaching staff but to everyone in this locker room that we are capable of getting this done," Gruden said.

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