O-line leads Niners' rush in resurgent victory
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Kyle Kosier munched his way through a big box of cookies as he stood in the corner of the San Francisco 49ers' deserted locker room.
The cookies were a gift from Kosier's mother -- and everybody on the offensive line deserved a treat on Monday.
Kosier and his teammates got the best of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive front Sunday in a revitalizing 24-7 victory over the Super Bowl champs.
"Every offensive lineman wants to see a game like that," Kosier said. "It was a great feeling to run the ball on a defense like that. When we start running the ball against them, there's not a lot they can do to blitz."
San Francisco rushed for 212 yards against the Bucs, who hadn't allowed an opponent to rush for more than 200 yards since late in the 2001 season. Tampa Bay's opponents were averaging 93 yards rushing per game this season, but with Pro Bowlers Jeremy Newberry and Ron Stone leading the way, San Francisco had its way.
Garrison Hearst rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown, while Kevan Barlow added 75 more yards. After the game, coach Dennis Erickson dragged all five members of his starting line into the postgame interview room -- just to make sure they received the proper attention.
"We felt that we had to run right at them to have success running, because they have such good speed," Erickson said. "We have to be able to run the football. That is what we are good at right now, and hopefully because of that, the passing game will continue to develop and get the ball down the field. That will give us a big play."
As the 49ers' rushing dominance progressed into the third quarter, Tampa Bay began stacking eight defenders at the line of scrimmage in an effort to stop it. The Niners kept running anyway -- and they also got several chances to throw to Terrell Owens in one-on-one coverage, allowing Erickson to fulfill his preseason promise of more downfield passing than in the Niners' recent history.
With the victory, San Francisco (3-4) quelled much of the negativity that has surrounded a lackluster start to Erickson's first season. The Niners also avoided a 2-5 start that would have buried them behind Seattle in the NFC West standings.
The offensive line succeeded without regular starters Derrick Deese and Eric Heitmann, who have struggled all season with sprained ankles that never seem to get better.
First-round draft pick Kwame Harris, filling in for Deese at the offensive line's toughest position, had his best game as a pro against Tampa Bay after being targeted by defenses for his inexperience earlier in the season.
Right next to Harris at left guard, Kosier excelled in one of the four positions he has played for the Niners in less than two seasons since he was drafted in the seventh round last year.
Kosier started the first two games of the season at right tackle while Scott Gragg was injured, and he started the next three at left guard. On Sunday, Kosier even switched to right guard for a few plays in the first half against Tampa Bay when Stone aggravated his sore wrist.
"It takes some getting used to when you're playing around different guys," Kosier said. "It's kind of coming together now. You've got to play more than one position to keep your job if you're an offensive lineman."
The Niners probably won't know whether Deese and Heitmann can play against Arizona on Sunday until hours before the game, so Harris and Kosier will be ready again.
Fullback Fred Beasley's role had diminished earlier in the season when Erickson elected to use more offensive schemes with two tight ends, but he was back in his favorite role as an outstanding lead blocker against Tampa Bay.
Earlier in the season, Beasley called for a return to the Niners' rushing roots.
"That's how this team has always had its success," Beasley said. "When we run it, I just feel like we can control the clock and beat anybody."
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