No comeback this time

Published: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 11:34 p.m.

TAMPA - Familiar feeling, familiar setting, familiar deficit.

Different outcome.

The San Francisco 49ers, for the second time in eight days, found themselves down 20-plus points in a playoff game. They rallied with 25 stunning points for an amazing victory the first time. They couldn't even muster a single point the second time.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers - reminiscent of the New York Giants a week before in the Wild-Card round- rolled up 28 points on the 49ers in the first half Sunday, while San Francisco managed just six.

"It was as good a performance the first 25 or 30 minutes as we've had all season," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden said.

The 49ers soon fell down 25 - one more point than their largest deficit last week - and eventually took a 31-6 decision right to the chin in this Divisional round game at Raymond James Stadium, just one short week after their stunning 39-38 comeback victory over the Giants.

The Buccaneers proved many things Sunday. For starters, they have a much better defense than the Giants.

"I thought our defense played extremely well today," Gruden said.

San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another last week, was held to 193 yards and no touchdowns. He completed 22 passes, but was intercepted three times.

"We just couldn't get anything to go right, and that's a credit to them," Garcia said. "They are a great defense. We just found ourselves where we had some opportunities early in the game and didn't come through as far as making plays to get the ball into the endzone."

Garcia's favorite target, Pro Bowl wide receiver Terrell Owens, was held to just four catches, and 35 yards. A week before, he had 177 yards and two touchdowns.

"They just played good defense," Garcia said. "It's not so much they focused on (Owens). There were times where they did roll to him, but they are just a great defense and they found ways to make it difficult to get the ball to him."

Other 49ers took as much blame as they gave the Buccaneers credit.

"They have a good defense, but I don't think we played well at all," 49ers center Jeremy Newberry said. "They are definitely one of the best defenses in the league, but we are a better offense than what we showed today."

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