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49ers Deal Buccaneers a Blast From the Past

October 20, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — In the waning seconds of a revitalizing victory over the Super Bowl champions, Chidi Ahanotu greeted each of the San Francisco 49ers' offensive linemen as they left the field.

"I told you! I told you we could do this to them!" the defensive end said.

The 49ers' line deserved Ahanotu's praise after humbling the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' vaunted defense in a 24-7 victory Sunday that just might have saved Dennis Erickson's first season as San Francisco's coach.

So just what insight did Ahanotu, who spent eight seasons with the Buccaneers, share with his new teammates?

"I told them, 'Man, keep running right at them,' " said Ahanotu, Tampa Bay's former franchise player. "Run it down their throat. They want to dance. They want to look pretty. When you run it right at them, you really get into their psyche and take them out of everything they want to do."

The 49ers (3-4) used a relentless rushing game to flatten the Buccaneers: Garrison Hearst ran for 117 yards and a touchdown; Kevan Barlow gained 75 more. Their prowess was even more impressive in the absence of starting offensive linemen Derrick Deese and Eric Heitmann, out with ankle injuries.

But San Francisco also had plenty of flashy moments: Terrell Owens turned a short pass into a 75-yard scoring romp, and Jeff Garcia passed for 253 yards, also throwing a touchdown pass to Tai Streets.

And don't forget the defense, which held the Buccaneers to 326 yards and one touchdown on a broken play. Almost everything about the afternoon was a pleasant surprise for the 49ers, whose team morale and belief were flagging after a terrible start.

"We can play with anybody, and I've always felt we can," said Erickson, who called it the biggest win of his five NFL seasons with Seattle and San Francisco. "The line was the key to everything today. We've been so close in so many games, but to finally win one is real good -- for about three more hours."

It was a one-sided rematch of Tampa Bay's first win in last season's playoffs. The Buccaneers hounded Garcia throughout the 49ers' 31-6 loss last January, and Coach Steve Mariucci was fired three days later.

But after scoring more than 30 points in each of their last three games, the Buccaneers (3-3) were miserable on offense. Brad Johnson had three passes intercepted, and Thomas Jones' fumble cut short a strong drive in the third quarter.

Tampa Bay is struggling through a series of injuries, and it lost cornerback Brian Kelly to a strained chest muscle in the first half. But not even injuries could explain the San Francisco offensive line's dominance against Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and Co.

"It's the reality of it," Sapp said. "None of it is [injuries]. We've got 11 healthy bodies when we line up.

"Let's play ball. We just weren't doing what we were supposed to be doing."

The Buccaneers also scored on a 75-yard play when the 49ers lost track of Keenan McCardell late in the first quarter.

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