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TAMPA, Fla. – Part of the vulnerability of falling into a trap is being oblivious that a trap awaits.
Coming off their emotional victory against the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers spent the entire week trying to get into the mindset that it's just as important to win Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Our guys are professionals,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They know what’s at stake. This game is the biggest game on the schedule. This is a must-win game. And just win, and do whatever it takes to get that, by any means necessary.”
Harbaugh’s job during the week was to refocus the 49ers (9-4) on taking care of their part of clinching a third consecutive trip to the playoffs. The 49ers will clinch a postseason berth with a victory over Tampa Bay, an Arizona loss at Tennessee and either a Dallas or Philadelphia loss.
And, yes, Harbaugh will be around for the playoffs, too.
Harbaugh’s name surfaced in the past few days as a potential candidate for the University of Texas job. But Harbaugh is not interested in returning to the college ranks for any job, multiple sources told CSNBayArea.com.
The 49ers plan to discuss a contract extension with Harbaugh after the playoffs. Harbaugh is in the third year of a five-year, $25 million contract.
Harbaugh, who is currently the third-highest paid coach in the NFC West, is in line to become among the highest-paid coaches in the league – something he can easily achieve with a good showing in the playoffs.
But making it back to the postseason is the first order of business for the 49ers. And that’s why the 49ers took it upon themselves to refocus after their 19-17 victory over the division-leading Seahawks last week.
“We all understand every game is important for us,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. “We understood last week was a rivalry game, a divisional game, and this week is just as important.
“The good thing about our team is each guy takes it upon himself to understand what’s at stake and what needs to be done.”
Said 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, “This game, for us and all intents and purposes, is just as important as last week’s was. With the division title realistically not in the picture, all these games weigh the same.”
The 49ers have not won at Tampa Bay since 1993. Of course, they’ve made only three trips to face the Buccaneers, including a playoff game after the 2002 season. The 49ers were outscored 79-15 in those three losses.
This is also the first time all season in which the 49ers have played an early start on the East Coast. The 49ers played one game at 10 a.m. (PT), but that was a night game in London after the team spent the entire week in the United Kingdom.
The 49ers are facing a surging team. The Buccaneers opened the season without a victory in their first eight games. The final loss during that streak was at Seattle, where Tampa Bay blew a 21-0 lead.
Since then, Tampa has won four of its past five games with a defense that has come up with 13 of their league-leading 21 interceptions during that period. The Buccaneers have beaten Miami, Atlanta, Detroit and Buffalo.
But a victory over the 49ers would carry a lot more weight.
“If we can beat San Francisco, that would be huge,” Tampa defensive tackle Gerald McCoy told the Tampa Tribune. “They’re really starting to get back to regular form now, and ever since coach Harbaugh came into the league, they’ve been not just a good team, but a great team.”
The 49ers know they will get the Buccaneers’ best effort. And the 49ers want to reciprocate.
“They got some good guys over there,” 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. “They can win games. And when they do, they win by a large amount. When they went to Seattle, they almost beat them. They were up by three scores and somehow they ended up losing the game. So we don’t want to fall in a trap.”