© St. Petersburg Times, published January 13, 2003
RECAP: Astute fans were planning their NFC Championship Game parties by the time the only scoreless quarter began. The 49ers had four fruitless drives, the most threatening ending at the Bucs 28 on a Ronde Barber interception. The Bucs, meanwhile, chewed up time.
KEY PLAY: Barber's interception was an exclamation point for a defense that held the 49ers scoreless during the second half.
KEY PLAYER: Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks helped make sure there would not be consecutive comebacks for the 49ers, helping on seven tackles. He stopped Eric Johnson after a 5-yard catch on fourth and 6 to end one drive with 9:41 left.
UNSUNG HERO: Barber's 80-yard return for a touchdown was nullified, but holding Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens to two catches and 12 yards smothered any comeback hopes. DID YOU NOTICE?: Owens seemed in a more sociable mood than on Jan.5, when he was involved in two late-game scraps in a 39-38 victory against the Giants. With 12:53 left and the Bucs winning 31-6, Owens had a lively chat with Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp. ... The Niners had two challenges go against them. On the first, coach Steve Mariucci challenged a ruling that quarterback Jeff Garcia fumbled, which teammate Matt Willig recovered. The play was upheld. On the second, a 15-yard catch by Tai Streets was reversed after it was ruled to have hit the ground.