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As bad a loss as Tampa Bay Buccaneers have ever had

SAN FRANCISCO

It was not so much the disappointment. It was the devastation.

It was no so much the splatter. It was the spread.

It was not the time zone, and it was not the short week, and it was not the slow start. It was annihilation. It was brutal. It was lopsided. And it was miserable.

On the other hand, I am fairly certain that at any minute, that mushroom cloud over the Golden Gate Bridge will dissipate.

Won't it?

The Bucs didn't just lose to the 49ers on Sunday. They were clobbered. They were assaulted. Along the way to a 48-3 drubbing, you hope they had the common decency to be embarrassed. It was men vs. boys. It was trolley car vs. pedestrian. It was bug vs. windshield.

It was 48-3, and it was as bad as any defeat in Bucs history.

Soon, maybe somewhere around Thursday, 49ers running back Frank Gore will clean the last of the Bucs defense from the bottom of his cleats.

How do you explain this? The Bucs had won three in a row, and the defense was growing up, and the offense owned the second halves. Then the team woke up Sunday morning, and just like that, it was 2009 again, and the team spent most of the afternoon trying to block the 49ers' extra points.

"We were flat in the beginning, flat in the end and flat in the middle," summed up Bucs coach Raheem Morris.

Yes, flat. Also, flattened.

"You have to believe it was an aberration," cornerback Ronde Barber said.

You might have suspected the Bucs had outgrown a day such as this. Evidently, they have not. The 49ers, a team the Bucs beat 21-0 in Candlestick last year, had more energy, more quickness, more fierceness. Either the fired Mike Singletary was a far worse coach than anyone suggested, or new coach Jim Harbaugh is about to be the next big thing in San Francisco. Coming soon: Harbaugh-a-Roni.

How bad was it?

It was worse than Bill Walsh vs. Leeman Bennett in 1986.

It was worse than Joe Montana vs. Vinny Testaverde in 1990.

It was worse than Steve Young vs. Trent Dilfer in his first start in 1994.

It was worse than anything you have seen and worse than you might have imagined. Even with their three-game winning streak, the Bucs are still young, and they still have flaws. It was not a stretch to imagine them losing to the 49ers. But who thought they would be shoved around the field all afternoon? Who thought that even 49ers players would end up making sport of them?

"They were really frustrated," San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis said. "I mean, I felt like they gave up. That's what I saw. I was trying to tell, I think it was Barber, 'Get your guys, get your guys. Y'all got to play harder. Y'all got to play harder.' "

Definition of a bad loss? That's when the other team is urging you to step it up.

Remember how the Bucs had given up only three touchdowns in their previous 10 quarters? The 49ers scored six. Remember how they gave up 149 yards rushing in 2½ games? The 49ers trampled them for 213. Remember how Josh Freeman looked like the brightest young quarterback in the league? Not so much lately.

Freeman threw two more interceptions Sunday, and suddenly, his total after five games (six) is the same as it was over 16 games last season. He had a rating of 43.4 Sunday, which was only 73.8 points lower than 49ers immortal Alex Smith had. This loss was so bad, it made you want to retract every good thing you had ever said about the Bucs. Me, too.

For crying out loud, those were the 49ers who bullied the Bucs. This wasn't the Jets from '09 or the Steelers from last year, games where you understood the Bucs' challenge was somewhat ahead of their development. This was the 49ers, and no one has accused them of being Huns in a very long time. They hadn't beaten a team by 45 points since 1987. They hadn't had a winning record since 2002.

This? There is no logic for this.

"We didn't even get off the plane this time," Morris said.

Here's the question, though. Why didn't the Bucs get off the plane? And who is the head flight attendant in charge of unloading? And isn't San Francisco a long way to travel to take a step backward?

For the Bucs, there is a lesson here (and certainly not much else). They are too young for cruise control. They are not accomplished enough to take a week off. They cannot run on half-energy or quarter-intensity. They cannot unravel as they did.

I know. Bad losses can happen to good teams, and the only other time the Bucs were crushed by 45 points was back in 1999. That year, Tampa Bay recovered nicely enough on its way to the NFC Championship Game.

This is a younger team, however, and resiliency might be harder to come by. For the Bucs, however, there is no other choice.

Learn from the shellacking, or it will happen again. Soon.

And next time? How about leaving the plane?

As bad a loss as Tampa Bay Buccaneers have ever had 10/09/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 10, 2011 8:43am]

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