The Examiner breaks down the 49ers-Buccaneers game, including what it will take to win, the matchups, a word about the coaches, our humble predictions and broadcast information.
THREE KEYS TO A VICTORY
1. The Niners are coming off their first win at Monster Park since Week 1. In their 20-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, receiver Darrell Jackson had the type of game the Niners were hoping he’d have more consistently (eight catches, 86 yards). It may have something to do with Shaun Hill being the quarterback. Or perhaps the Bengals just left him open too many times. Either way, we’ve seen what Jackson can do when he’s active in the game. Production from Vernon Davis and Arnaz Battle would also help.
2. Though it appears nobody likes it when the punter heads onto the field, Niners fans and players should feel confident whenever Andy Lee is out there on fourth down. Lee, along with rookie linebacker Patrick Willis, was named to the Pro Bowl for the NFC. He’s third in average (48.3 yards) and leads the league in net average (42.4).
3. Former 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia returns to Monster Park for the first time in an enemy uniform. Garcia’s familiar playmaking abilities and athleticism have brought the Bucs back to the playoffs. And it’s those abilities that the Niners must contain.
EARNEST GRAHAM vs. DEREK SMITH
Graham: Started season as third-string back; now set to break 1,000 yards for first time in his career.
Smith: Though Willis is the future of the Niners, linebacker’s leadership (and 74 tackles) are vital.
Ruud: In his first year as a fulltime player, middle linebacker leads team with 108 total tackles.
Gore: Niners kept RB active and involved against Bengals (29 carries). The result — 138 yards.
Adams: Bucs’ first-round draft pick quietly enjoying rookie season. Second on team with six sacks.
Snyder: Left tackle must protect Hill’s blind side — or we may see backup Chris Weinke in action.
For the first time in a while, the 49ers’ Mike Nolan spent the week answering positive questions regarding his quarterback. But we’ll see how Nolan responds after Hill plays a tough defense for four quarters.
Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden is feeling giddy about his young team and what it can do in the playoffs. He may let some starters rest if this game gets out of hand. Don’t be surprised, though, if they play the entire game.
THE EXAMINER PREDICTS …
One team can’t go any higher in playoff positioning — while another team simply just has pride to play for. Though the Niners will do what they can to get a victory in their last game at home this season, the Bucs will just be too much to handle. Bucs 26, 49ers 16
Buccaneers at 49ers
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
TV: KTVU (Ch. 2)
Radio: KNBR (680 AM)