49ers Sapped by Injuries to Young, Rice
When the outcome was no longer in doubt, Warren Sapp danced in jubilation and Steve Young walked wobbly to the visiting sideline, where Jerry Rice was already standing on crutches.
The San Francisco 49ers looked vulnerable even when their top offensive players were on the field. Without them for most of Sunday, the perennial Super Bowl contenders didn’t have enough offense to contend with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With Young slowed by a mild concussion and Rice knocked out of the game with a possible major knee injury, the Tampa Bay’s vastly improved defense held the 49ers to 45 second-half yards in 13-6 victory that spoiled San Francisco’s debut under Coach Steve Mariucci.
Trent Dilfer threw a one-yard touchdown pass to Dave Moore and Michael Husted kicked field goals of 40 and 34 yards for the Buccaneers, who started 0-5 last year in their first season under Coach Tony Dungy but won won five of their last seven to heighten expectations for 1997.
“We can’t get too excited about winning this game,” Dungy said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad we won, and it’s nice to know we won’t start the season 0-5. But in all honesty, I really expected us to win the game because they [the 49ers] had trouble scoring points during the preseason. I figured our defense would keep us in the game.”
The 49ers were limited to Gary Anderson field goals of 30 and 40 yards, both in the first half, and finished with 191 yards total offense while failing to score a touchdown for the first time in 97 games.
Sapp led Tampa Bay’s defense with 11 tackles and 2 1/2 of Tampa Bay’s seven sacks, including a hit that sent Young to the sideline on San Francisco’s first possession.
Young, plagued by concussions in recent seasons, returned with 11 seconds to go in the third quarter with the 49ers leading, 6-3. But by that time, the San Francisco offense was also missing Rice, who was hurt on another play involving Sapp.
The Buccaneers’ 276-pound tackle chased Young down from behind to sack him for an 11-yard loss, forcing a punt on the fifth play of the game. Television replays showed that Young, who left the field without help, was kneed in the head by linebacker Hardy Nickerson as the quarterback fell to the ground.
Rice injured his knee late in the second quarter after taking a handoff from Young’s replacement, Jeff Brohm, on a reverse. Sapp penetrated the 49er backfield, reached out and caught Rice’s face mask to make the tackle as the NFL’s all-time leading receiver tried to circle left end. He was to have an MRI on his knee when the team returned to San Francisco.
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