Tampa Bay's level of interest against San Francisco on Sunday was, well, dubious.
Sure, the starters played the majority of the first half. Sure, Jeff Garcia looked pretty sharp. But even with the starters on the field, I always had this sense that the focus just wasn't there.
Just like two years ago when the Bucs went to San Francisco with a 5-1 record and laid an egg.
Maybe it's the West coast. Maybe the salt air is just different there. Or maybe this team just realized that, after 15 weeks of pushing and pushing to reach the playoffs they could finally exhale.
Most of the players and head coach Jon Gruden said all week there were things to play for. On Sunday Gruden said he had no intention of playing the starters the whole game.
So was that surrender or common sense?
"You know when you start seeing your players carried off, you have emotions that go through you," Gruden said Monday, making allusions to Maurice Stovall's injury. "Our plan going into the game was to give Garcia some work in the first half. We knew we were going to throw the football in San Francisco and throw it we did. We had great success. I think we had nine explosive plays of twenty yards or more, should've had more than that. Our plan was to rotate some players in the second half and a couple of guys late in the second quarter. We were going to use the last two games to get some young players an opportunity to play. That's a great teaching experience. Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, Jeremiah Trotter, we might need these guys in the playoffs and that was the plan going into the game. That will be the plan certainly to a degree this week. It's not an easy decision, but it's one that needed to be made."
Stovall's injury is a massive blow to the special teams. He was their best gunner on punt coverage and one of their best sideline contain players on kick coverage. I'm not sure how the Bucs replace that. His receiving contributions were minimal. What it does, however, is put an inexperienced Micheal Spurlock in the mix as the No. 4 receiver. I think that means you'll see a lot more of Alex Smith and Jerramy Stevens the rest of the season.
I think Gruden was right to sit some of his players. His veterans needed the break. And we're only talking about this only because the Buccaneers lost to a 4-10 49ers team on the road, and didn't look all that great doing it. Yes, they could have pushed for that third playoff berth, but there's no guarantee they would get it, even if they won their remaining two games.
In the process, Gruden could have lost more than just Stovall.
So, yes, it was surrender. But sometimes surrender makes the most sense.
LET'S RECTIFY THIS WRONG: Joey Galloway will probably never be a Hall of Fame wide receiver. But he's had a solid, productive career. On Sunday he became the first Buccaneer in team history to record three straight 1,000-yard seasons. It was also the sixth 1,000-yard season of his career.
Did Galloway deserve a Pro Bowl berth this year? Well, the two main criteria for the Pro Bowl — and I'll be blunt — are popularity and statistics. Galloway is not the type to publicize himself so he loses that battle. And while Galloway's numbers are good this year, there are several receivers in the league that have better numbers — and they're all going.
Sometimes actors receive Oscars late in their career for a great performance, but also to honor their careers and their multiple failures to win an Oscar previously. Al Pacino's Oscar for "Scent of a Woman" comes to mind (you're telling me he was better in SOAW than in, say, "Godfather" or "Dog Day Afternoon?" C'mon). But he deserved the award. No one disputed that.
Galloway deserves a trip to Hawaii. Thankfully, he still has a chance. He's the first alternate at wide receiver, which means he would go if one of the players in front of him can't play (or decides not to due to an "injury." It happens).
Galloway had a better season, statistically, in 2005 and really deserved the trip then. But it would be nice to see him in Hawaii this February as a sort-of career achievement award for a player whose body of work deserves it.
TE Jerramy Stevens : Jon Gruden said he had big plays for Stevens last week. Four receptions for 73 yards and two touchdowns may just qualify. With Maurice Stovall out for the season, Stevens' value just shot up.
QB Jeff Garcia : He completed 60 percent of his passes, had a 109 QB rating and threw a touchdown pass. Aesthetically, he looked much sharper than last week. He may only need a half against Carolina to be ready for the Giants.
QB Shaun Hill : Give it up to the journeyman. He took a lot of abuse from the Bucs defense but stood tall enough to throw three TD passes.
DT Bryant Young: The 14-year vet had two quarterback hurries in his last home game, plus a ride on the shoulder of his teammates. The last link to the 49ers glory years rode off into the sunset at home in style.
DT Jovan Haye: Five tackles, a sack, a hurry and a pass defensed gave Haye the best line of the day for the defense.
LB Patrick Willis: Twenty tackles vs. the Bucs? OK, sir, would you like to sit in first class on your flight to the Pro Bowl?
The Bucs offensive line : After six weeks of great run blocking, the entire unit fell flat. They looked out of sync, committed too many penalties and helped the running backs gain only 67 yards. What happened?
Ball possession : The Bucs committed two big turnovers on offense and the 49ers turned it into 14 points. Tampa Bay cannot afford to allow teams to work in the short field in the postseason.
Focus : The Bucs' attention to detail in this contest simply wasn't there. For that matter, their attention wasn't there, period.
THE MATCHUPS IN REVIEW
I highlighted six key matchups entering Sunday's game. How did they turn out? Check it out in this quick review:
BUCS FB BYRON STORER VS. 49ERS MLB PATRICK WILLIS: This probably isn't completely Storer's fault, but Willis had 20 tackles on Sunday, so he wins.
BUCS WR JOEY GALLOWAY VS. 49ERS CB NATE CLEMENTS: Galloway had one catch for 29 yards before leaving the game — and he beat Clements, who later picked off QB Luke McCown. Call it a draw.
BUCS QB JEFF GARCIA VS. 49ERS UT BRYANT YOUNG: Young didn't sniff Garcia or McCown on Sunday, but he was disruptive. But Young didn't goad either of the QBs into mistakes, as I thought he might. So the QBs win.
49ERS RB FRANK GORE VS. BUCS MLB BARRETT RUUD: Gore reached the 1,000-yard mark with an 89-yard performance. But he worked for all of it. You could argue he was more effective as a receiver on Sunday. Ruud had a nice game, finishing with six tackles. Gore wins slightly.
49ERS LT ADAM SNYDER VS. BUCS RE GREG WHITE: White left the game in the second quarter with an unspecified injury. Snyder wins.
49ERS WR DARRELL JACKSON VS. BUCS CB RONDE BARBER: Jackson's TD reception in the second quarter gave the 49ers some hope. But he only had two receptions on Sunday. Barber nearly picked off a pass. It's a draw.
I made 10 predictions before the game. How did I do? Let's check, shall we?
1. Tampa Bay will rush for 135 yards or more on Sunday. I guess I was being really greedy with this prediction. The Bucs managed only 67 yards rushing against a middling 49ers run defense. The Bucs did not commit to the run as they have in previous weeks, which was baffling.
2. Jeff Garcia will not throw an interception or commit a fumble. Garcia was just fine on Sunday — efficient and effective.
3. The Bucs will hold the 49ers without a sack. Uh, no. The 49ers didn't have a great pass rushing coming in, but they managed four sacks on Sunday, including two from Willis.
4. Joey Galloway will have a rebound day. He only caught one pass, though that 29-yarder put him over 1,000 yards. The Bucs planned to sit him in the second quarter and did so.
5. FB Byron Storer will not have a letdown. The Bucs didn't give him much to do once it became clear they were going to throw the ball a lot on Sunday. That made it difficult to assess his performance.
1. Frank Gore will rush for at least 81 yards. He rushed for 89, giving him 1,000 yards for the season. He also caught four passes, including a touchdown reception.
2. Shaun Hill will take a step back. His numbers did in key areas like completion percentage and passer rating. But the two numbers that mean the most — touchdowns and victories — remained the same. He threw three scores and the Niners won.
3. The 49ers offensive line will struggle in pass protection. I'd say they did, even though the numbers don't reflect that. Hill took a beating and didn't have a high completion percentage because the Bucs had defenders flying around Hill all day.
4. The 49ers third-down conversion rate will go down. Oh, it did. The Niners converted just 4-of-14 on third down (29 percent), well below the 78 percent they were converting with Hill in the six quarters before Sunday's game.
5. Arnaz Battle will have one long catch. Battle didn't have a catch.
I picked the Bucs to win, 30-13 (I'll never do that again when they're on the West coast). I dropped to 7-7 in picking the winner, and dropped to 6-4 when I pick the Bucs.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.