Well I was fortunate enough to watch the entire game at a Mexican restaurant in the Oakland airport. I've got the TiVoed version saved at home so I'll be able to rewatch it when I get back Thursday. In the meantime, there is certainly plenty to talk about after an entertaining 49ers victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Seeing Bryant Young carried off the field following a dominating performance by young Patrick "Bam Bam" Willis was reminiscent of similar circumstances on December 17, 2000 (and I'm open to giving Bam Bam a test run for Patrick Willis). December 17, 2000 was Jerry Rice's last home game as a 49er and a continue to be unnamed wide receiver marked the occasion with an NFL record 20 receptions and 283 yards (6 shy of Rice's team record). Today was likely BY's last home game as a 49er (no 100% official announcement yet). At the same time, Bam Bam stole the show with 20 total tackles (according to espn.com), 2 sacks, a forced fumble and a pass deflection in the first quarter that clearly prevented a touchdown. Of course the primary differences are that BY will not be signing with the Raiders (or Seahawks, or Broncos) and Patrick Willis is not a pompous team-killing jackass.
In this case, just when it seems like Willis has done it all as a rookie, he comes back with an even more impressive showing. It seemed like he was in on every play and all over the field making things happen. It is certainly fitting that the Patrick Willis's legend takes another step forward as another 49ers legend wraps up his career.
In the meantime, it was certainly an eventful game on both sides of the ball. A glass half empty person would say the Bucs benched their starting offense at the end of the second quarter and their defense got plenty of rest now that their playoff position is locked up. However, I'm of the opinion that a team can only take what the other team gives them. That was true here as the 49ers made things happen on offense AND defense to win this game. Jeff Garcia had a solid first half, but the 49ers defense was stiff enough when it mattered and did not break. The offense was not pretty at times, but key turnovers by the defense were the difference-maker in setting up short fields. Due to the performances, there are plenty of game balls to go around:
- Bryant Young - Aside from this likely being his last home game, Young was all over the field and playing at 110% even as the game was winding down. He was in Garcia and McCown's face, even with a relatively weak pass rush at times.
- Bam Bam - What else needs to be said about #52? He's a dominating freak of nature and the 49ers are set with one hell of a defensive playmaker.
- Frank Gore - Congratulations are in order for Gore as he passed 1,000 yards. Throw in his receiving yards and he passed 1400 yards of total offense. Even with all of his struggles, Frank Gore has continued to be the horse for this offense. If the offensive line can get their act together for all of next season, he'll be back starting the Pro Bowl, without a doubt.
- Nate "Lockdown" Clements - Earlier this week I discovered that Clements is #2 among cornerbacks for passes thrown his way. One person in the comments suggested it was because he lines up far enough off the line of scrimmage so as to bait QBs to throw his way. Either way, his interception in the 4th quarter set up the eventual winning score.
- Andy Lee - Less than a week after being named to his first Pro Bowl and Lee stepped up with 9 punts, including a 63-yarder that shouldn't have happened due to a Brian Jennings penalty bringing back a fumble.
- Shaun Hill - I wanted to close with a brief discussion of Shaun Hill's performance. Statistically, it's a mixed bag as he combined 3 touchdowns with a 45% completion percentage. I'll have to go back and check out the film when I get back home, but in the meantime, there was definitely a difference in facing the quality defense of the Bucs. There were definitely times where he could not get passes into the small zones, leading to a higher than normal incompletion percentage. At the same time, he made some phenomenal throws on the three touchdown passes. The Gore touchdown was impressive because he moved around with his legs and got it off to Gore who then made things happen on his own (I'll have to check out that one again). The passes to DJack and the Disease were nice throws fit right into the openings he had. I think all things considered, this performance was better than the numbers would indicate.
Brief Look Forward: Cleveland Browns
The Browns loss to Cincinnati makes this game a whole lot more interesting all of a sudden. The Titans play Sunday night, while the Browns face the 49ers Sunday morning PST. If both teams win it will come down to their respective records against common opponents.
What does this mean for the 49ers? It means Cleveland is in a must-win situation, which means they'll be playing their starters and they'll be playing to win. While Cleveland does not have the defense of the Bucs, they will have motivated players trying to get into the playoffs. Shaun Hill is 2-0 as a starter and he'll get one last test before heading into the offseason.
More importantly in my opinion is a chance for the 49ers to repeat their feat from last year of knocking a playoff team out on the last Sunday of the regular season. The Broncos were the recipients of this last season and I know Arrowhead Pride readers were greatly appreciative of the 49ers OT victory in Denver last New Year's Eve. I'd expect nothing less from Music City Miracles. Let's knock somebody else out of the playoffs!