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What they're saying

By Various writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003

If history is Steve Mariucci's guide, then he should not send Terrell Owens on a second-quarter reverse Sunday in Tampa, Fla. And he should try to limit the chances of Jeff Garcia absorbing a head-rattling hit.

Put another way: Someone should block Warren Sapp.

The 49ers and Buccaneers share little history. They have never met in the playoffs and the regular-season litany predictably leans to the west: The 49ers have won 12 of the 14 games between the teams.

Amid this unremarkable past rests one all-too-memorable encounter. The last time the 49ers and Bucs played each other, on Aug. 31, 1997, at old Tampa Stadium, in Mariucci's first regular-season game as coach of the 49ers, the kingdom nearly crumbled.

Jerry Rice blew out his knee, Steve Young sustained his third concussion in less than a year and the 49ers lost 13-6. Beyond those little details, Mariucci enjoyed a lovely debut as an NFL head coach.
-- Ron Kroichick, San Francisco Chronicle

The interesting decision for 49ers coach Steve Mariucci will be whether or not to mix in some no-huddle offense against the Bucs. The no-huddle brought the 49ers some long-awaited energy and rhythm on offense during their 24-point comeback against the Giants. They won't have as easy a time wearing down the Bucs defensive line as they did the Giants. The Bucs line is built on quickness and durability. Still, the no-huddle is an interesting option.
-- John Clayton, ESPN.com

At times on Sunday the 49ers' defense stiffened against the Giants, but most of the time it was just stiff. Put it against a high-powered attack and you'd figure the Niners would have to score 40 to win, but now they're facing the NFL's 24th-ranked offense, led by a quarterback (Brad Johnson) who hasn't played since Dec. 15.

That's not what's on the minds of some of the Niners, though. Players with long memories might recall the last meeting with Tampa Bay, in 1997, a game that marked the coming of age of the Bucs' defense. Tampa Bay knocked Steve Young out of the game with a concussion and sidelined Jerry Rice for most of the year with a torn knee ligament, and the Bucs won 13-6.

For the last three games, though, ever since Tampa Bay clinched a playoff spot, the defense has been on cruise control. It'll be stoked on Sunday. The condition of 49ers left tackle Derrick Deese, who went out of the game against the Giants with a sprained left ankle, will be critical. He matches up well against Simeon Rice, the NFC sack leader this season. The Bucs haven't had an emotional game in quite a while. They will this time.

The Pick: Bucs 20, Niners 17
-- Paul Zimmerman, Sports Illustrated

We know Rich Gannon was the NFL's regular-season MVP, but sorry, he's not our postseason most necessary player. Neither is Michael Vick in Atlanta, Steve McNair in Tennessee or Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. And you can throw New York's Chad Pennington, San Francisco's Jeff Garcia and Pittsburgh's Tommy Maddox into that category, too.

They're all very important to their teams' chances, and have been integral to their success. But no team's playoff push is more dependent on their starting quarterback than Tampa Bay's, where Brad Johnson has been essential.

If McNair goes down, the Titans have Neil O'Donnell, a one-time Super Bowl starter. In Philly, we found out just how deep the quarterback depth goes after McNabb. Kordell Stewart would step in for Maddox, and Vinny Testaverde would take over for Pennington in New York. Even Atlanta's Doug Johnson and San Francisco's Tim Rattay have had their moments this season.

But in Tampa Bay, it's Brad Johnson or start planning your offseason. Here's how much he has meant, and why the Bucs better hope the back injury that has kept him sidelined since Dec. 15 is completely healed:

Tampa Bay went 2-1 in games that Johnson didn't start this season, but in both of those wins, the Bucs went without a touchdown. In the loss, they scored a garbage-time touchdown. All told, that's 36 possessions that produced 34 points -- one touchdown and nine field goals. Every one of those points was produced with backup Rob Johnson at the helm.

When Brad Johnson played, the Bucs went 10-3, including 6-1 at home, averaging 24 points per game. With Tampa Bay's No. 1-ranked defense, 24 points is almost always more than enough to win. Without him, the Bucs averaged 11.3 points per game and resorted to nothing but a field goal-led attack.

That sounds a lot like the Bucs' old offense, which always seemed to go belly-up come playoff time. To avoid that familiar fate, Tampa Bay needs its No. 1 quarterback -- more so than any of its playoff opponents.
-- Don Banks, CNNSI.com

You can't shut up the Raiders and Jets this week, not that you'd want to. The closer they get to (today's) playoff game, the more they cackle, yap and hoot at one another. For the uninitiated, this is how you run a playoff experience, with hot and cold running animosity.

Then there's the small matter of the 49ers vs. Buccaneers, a would-be rivalry celebrating a quarter-century of non-aggression bordering on ambivalence. It's not that they haven't had chances to develop professional-grade loathing. They've played 14 times since 1977. Sadly, there's scarcely been heard a fightin' word. Worse, most games have ended with the teams too busy kicking themselves in the keister to express any serious animus toward the other side.
-- Gary Peterson, Contra Costa Times

When Steve Mariucci walks into Raymond James Stadium (today), sees the pirate ship rocking and the cannons firing, maybe he'll think: "This little slice of job-secure paradise could have been mine."

Or maybe he won't. Ever since the 49ers skipped into their locker room with a date in Tampa, Mariucci has deftly avoided that subplot.

But the fact is inescapable: Forty-nine weeks before facing the Buccaneers in the playoffs, Mariucci was considering an offer from the Tampa Bay owners.

"The whole picture is kind of a funny story line," center Jeremy Newberry said this week. But when it comes down to playing the game it won't mean jack squat."
-- Ann Killion, San Jose Mercury News


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