Smith Shows He's Up To The Task, Shuts Down Johnson
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune, published 22 November 2004

According to Dwight Smith, you don't need an Ivy League education to figure out how to maximize his impact in the secondary. Given more extensive coverage responsibilities Sunday, Smith shut down NFC reception leader Eric Johnson in Tampa Bay's 35-3 rout, limiting San Francisco's crafty tight end to one meaningless fourth-quarter catch. Smith and fellow safety John Howell were aided by a relentless pass rush that registered five sacks and hounded Tim Rattay into a 48.7 quarterback rating. ``Every time we were in man-to-man, I was matched up with the tight end,'' Smith said of Johnson, a former Yale standout who entered Raymond James Stadium on pace for 101 receptions this season. ``That's all I've been asking for. I'm a cover safety ... let me cover.''

Smith has been frustrated by his role in Tampa Bay's pass defense schemes, but he responded with a determined effort against Johnson, who set an Ivy League record in 1999 with a 21-catch game against Harvard. ``I felt guys converging quickly when I was trying to find an open spot,'' said Johnson, held without a reception until Tampa Bay led 28-3. ``I felt more pressure than normal. At times, it felt like there were three guys on me.''

Howell, making his first regular- season start in almost two years, also contributed to a swarming defensive performance that held the 49ers to a 1-for-12 conversion rate on third down. ``It felt like nothing came my way today because our line and linebackers were taking care of business up front,'' said Howell, who replaced injured safety Jermaine Phillips. ``To get another start was an unbelievable experience for me. I know one thing - there's no better defense in the world to be on than this one. We started out 1-5, and not one guy in this room was pointing fingers.''

At intermission, the Bucs defense appeared on its way to a record-setting day. Despite a run-out-the-clock 14- yard gain on the final play of the half, the 49ers managed only 26 yards and two first downs through two quarters. Tampa Bay's franchise records for single-game defense are 80 yards and four first downs, both accomplished in a rainstorm against the Chiefs at Tampa Stadium in 1979. ``This was really our first defining victory,'' Smith said, ``the first game when all three phases came together.''

The 1-9 49ers appeared overmatched from the start. San Francisco faces Miami at home Sunday in a matchup that could shape the top of the NFL draft in April. ``We did not execute, we did not block, we did not run, we did not protect, you name it,'' embattled coach Dennis Erickson said. ``Anything you want to talk about on offense, we did it the wrong way.''

Torrie Cox returned a fourth-quarter interception for a touchdown and Ronde Barber added four tackles and his 17th career sack as the 49ers averaged a mere 3.3 yards on their 59 snaps. ``Our guys hunted today,'' Bucs secondary coach Mike Tomlin said, ``and everybody knows a pass rush is your best coverage. Ronde's something else. I know I can coach another 20 years and not find another Ronde Barber.''