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How to characterize this one? D-grading

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By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist
Published October 20, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO - Floyd?

Hello, Floyd?

I am standing inside the visiting locker room at 3-Com Park, and I am parked outside of a Clorox-yellow door that has "Coaches" stenciled on it in red paint. I am waiting for Floyd Peters to come out and explain himself.

Floyd? I know you're in there, Floyd, and I'm not budging. You have some explaining to do.

Now, I know what you're thinking. This is the year 2003 and, technically, Peters hasn't been the Bucs defensive coordinator since 1994. That's a lot of years since Peters could be called a prime suspect.

At a time like this, however, when your eyes are stinging from the ugliness you have witnessed, when your sinuses are bleeding from holding your nose the entire afternoon, you grasp for whatever explanations you can. This is mine: Floyd Peters is back, baby.

How else are you going to explain the Bucs defense, this Bucs defense, being shoved around the yard like a bewildered band of bobos? Remember The Karate Kid? This was Daniel getting pushed around before he met Mr. Miyagi.

This is the Bucs defense, for crying out loud. For eight seasons, it has been arguably the best in the game, and it's reached the point where the unit has sent its application to History. It did so without blushing.

And then, this.

The Bucs were awful Sunday. Terrible. Rotten. They could not tackle, they could not cover. They did not read plays, they could not take angles. They were beaten, blocked and broken. They were dogged, dodged and disassembled. They could not have been more embarrassed if someone had left their trousers back in Tampa.

Put it this way: Nobody has any lunch money left.

Nobody.

This was not a great defense, or a good one. This was a bunch of guys named Ned, and they were rolled over by a bunch of guys named Ted.

Just to remind you, the 49ers were 2-4, and their offensive line was about as chewed up as the Bucs secondary. And still, that line moved the vaunted Bucs front four around as if it were plowing a field. The 49ers ran where they wanted, when they wanted, and their toughest choice usually was whether to run to the right for 8 yards or to the left for 8. They split the Bucs line so easily you'd swear Moses was their center.

Consider:

The 49ers had 306 yards - at the half.

They scored 24, which doesn't sound like a lot until you consider that Terrell Owens dropped two touchdowns and the 49ers flubbed three field-goal attempts.

They had 458 yards, the most any Bucs opponent has had in 12 seasons. Remember that 45-0 loss to Oakland in '99? The Raiders didn't have this many yards.

This was the same 49ers offense, remember, that was crushed by the Bucs in last year's playoff run. That score 31-6, and it ended with Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson urging Gruden to go ahead and score 50 points. It was so ugly that Steve Mariucci was fired shortly after, an idea that seemed positively awful until the point the Bucs came to town.

So what happened?

Terrible happened, that's what.

Blame injuries if you want. It's a loser's game, because every team has injuries. But the truth of it is, yeah, injuries had something to do with Jeff Garcia playing catch with Owens.

On the other hand, no, you cannot pin the ease with which the 49ers ran the ball on Bucs injuries. You can pin this on the fact some awfully big names had some awfully small games. Pick one out; no one played well. Not Warren Sapp, not Derrick Brooks, not Simeon Rice.

"You can tell a lot about a football game from the way the pile moves," safety John Lynch said. "If it moves forward, you're getting beat. Today, it moved forward a lot."

The Bucs are 3-3, okay? After six games, that's how you define average. Three dash three are the first six steps in the dance number known as 8-8. Last season, the Bucs lost their third game on Dec. 1. This season, they lost it on Oct. 19. What does that tell you?

It tells you this. The Bucs are reeling. They are hurting, and they are slipping.

Oh, before this, you could explain away the losses easily enough. Despite the terrible first half against Carolina, the Bucs could have won with an extra point. Despite a wretched second half against Indianapolis, they could have won with a proper call on an onside kick late in the game. Both times, victory would have allowed you to look at the shortcomings differently, but it wouldn't have erased them.

This was different. This was the 49ers dominating, start to finish, on offense and defense, on the ground and through the air, through the river and through the woods, physically and mentally.

When has the defense been this terrible? Well, 1984-95, which brings us back to the door to the coaches' office, still looking for answers.

Ah, don't get me wrong. Down deep, I know this wasn't Floyd Peters' fault. Hey, I'm smarter than that. Rusty? Rusty Tillman? Are you in there, Rusty?


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