The 49ers' problem? It's execution

The Bucs took away the deep ball and held Frank Gore to 23 yards rushing. The problem wasn't the game plan, says offensive coordinator Mike Johnson. It was execution.

Strange, isn't it? Ten weeks into the season and the San Francisco 49ers have finally identified their problem. It's execution.

Coach Mike Singletary said it, quarterback Troy Smith said it, even offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said it. On "Blame Me" Monday, during which everyone graciously pointed the finger at himself in an attempt to man up, it wasn't the game plan that cost the 49ers Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was execution.

Do playoff teams have problems executing this late into the season? If they do, it's surely not to the extent the Niners had them in their first home shutout loss since 1977. Playoff teams know how to make the playbook work on the field. They know how to make adjustments. Mistakes are minimal.

But not the 49ers.

"I'll sit here and say I thought the game plan was good," Johnson said Monday. "But we didn't executed it well. That falls on me."

No one is giving up hope that the 49ers can squeeze into the playoffs despite their current 3-7 record. They play the Arizona Cardinals, who have an identical record and identical hopes, on Monday night in a nationally televised that's going to expose one of them as fraudulent. Both teams trail the first-place Seattle Seahawks (5-5) by two games in the NFC West with six to play.

Singletary, asked on Monday if he considers his team to be a playoff team, said, "Is this a playoff team? If we win."

Asked if it's playoff-worthy, he answered, "If we win."

He seemed to indicate that skeptics will have a better evaluation of the Niners after the Arizona game, and perhaps he's right. But as for the playoffs? They'll only get there by backing in.

As for the Bucs, Johnson said they did well taking away the deep ball that Troy Smith was able to throw the previous week against the St. Louis Rams. They also focused on stopping running back Frank Gore, who totaled just 23 yards on 12 carries.

How were they able to do both?

"That's a good question," Johnson said. "That's a very good question. I would have liked to see us run the ball better; that sets up more vertical opportunities. And with the guy that we have at quarterback right now, I think that's something that we have to get done. He is a better play-action passer than shotgun drop-back passer. … And to run play-action passes, you have to run the ball somewhat effectively."

Johnson said the 49ers tried to throw deep on at least three occasions in the first half but were unsuccessful.

"I'm not going to sit here and talk about why we didn't execute them properly," Johnson said, "but there were three vertical attempts that we did try. (The Bucs) were not going to give us those."

WILLIS LEADS: Linebacker Patrick Willis leads all inside linebackers in NFC fan voting for the Pro Bowl. In fact, he's the only player from an NFC West team to lead at his position. Willis is trying to make his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl, which would make him the first 49er to earn Pro Bowl status in his first four seasons since safety Ronnie Lott in 1981-84.