Tumbled in Tampa Bay

Trailing by 22 points at halftime, and by 25 points midway through the third period, one might have thought the 49ers had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers right where they wanted them on Sunday. Not this time. Not against the NFL's No. 1 defense. Not a chance. And so, San Francisco's 2002 season came tumbling to a finish with a lopsided 31-6 loss in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

That's one step farther than the 49ers got last year, primarily because they rallied from a 24-point deficit in the final 18 minutes last week to record a 39-38 wild-card victory over the New York Giants that was the greatest playoff comeback in franchise history and the second-greatest in NFL history.

But there was no stirring comeback Sunday at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers made sure of that.

Riding the arm of quarterback Brad Johnson, the short-yardage rumbling of fullback Mike Alstott and an aggressive, opportunistic defense that forced four turnovers, Tampa Bay took control of this one early and rode that effort to the finish.

The Niners fell behind 28-6 at halftime as the Buccaneers scored touchdowns on four of five drives after their game-opening drive ended on a Johnson interception. The Buccaneers then sat on that lead the rest of the way after adding a field goal to it in the third quarter.

"They're a great defense," Niners right tackle Scott Gragg said. "You can't get down one touchdown against them, more less four touchdowns. Kudos to them, they're a great team. They were the better team today."

Johnson passed for 196 yards and two touchdowns and Alstott scored twice on two-yard runs as the Bucs controlled the ball and had a huge advantage in time of possession and total yardage.

Tampa's defense, meanwhile, limited the Niners to 228 yards and repeatedly hit and harassed quarterback Jeff Garcia all day. Garcia completed 22 of 41 passes and threw three interceptions, and his top weapon - All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens - was limited to just 35 yards receiving on four catches.


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