It's a laugher
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 11 September 2000

In the end, Bucs fans were on their feet again Sunday, imploring the defense to make one last stand. This is the way most games end for Tampa Bay. They let the other team hang around and the defense has to hang on. It happened against the Chicago Bears as the final seconds ticked down at Raymond James Stadium. Once again, the Bucs were leading. Their sideline was pleading.

Only this time, it wasn't the game they were afraid of losing. It was the shut out. Talk about crunch time. The Bucs' 41-0 rout of the hibernating Bears was their most lopsided victory ever and only the fourth shut out in club history. "It's probably the most dominating game that I've been a part of," John Lynch said. "We talked about it within the team. We said it's nice to have the ability to win close games in the end, but there's no rule that every game has to go down to the last play. We said, 'Let's finish them, let's put the dagger in them.' "

Not only did the Bears lose their sixth straight to Tampa Bay, they did so without a murmur. Chicago extended its streak to 14 quarters without a touchdown against the Bucs. You have to go back 166 games and 11 years to find the last time the Bears failed to illuminate their side of the scoreboard. Tampa Bay's defense forced four turnovers in the first half and the Bucs converted three into scores, including a 24-yard fumble return for a touchdown by cornerback Ronde Barber. "I'm not going to stand here and say we only beat ourselves. They beat us today," said Bears quarterback Cade McNown, who was sacked five times and intercepted twice. "They're 100 percent sure of what they're doing. It's a feast or famine defense and they ate a lot today."

The Bucs (2-0) are in a first-place tie with Detroit and Minnesota in the NFC Central. Tampa Bay visits the Lions on Sunday at 1 p.m. Barber and fellow cornerback Donnie Abraham made like Lester Hayes and Michael Haynes, giving the league a tough decision for who deserves NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Barber had 2 1/2 sacks, forced a fumble and returned a fumble for a touchdown. Not to be outdone, Abraham intercepted McNown twice and forced the fumble that produced Barber's touchdown. "I got the first two sacks," said Barber, who watched Abraham add two interceptions. "I was like, 'Man, (Donnie,) you're trying to outplay me. Cut it out.' Donnie is a great player."

By halftime, the Bucs knew the game was pretty much over and weren't afraid to let the Bears know. "I told them after Donnie picked the ball off, I told (Bears center Olin) Kruetz the game was over and he told me it wasn't over, it was a long ballgame," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "I told him, 'You must be watching something different than me because this one's over.' "

Of course, Sapp was right. But what made the game such a rout was the offense decided to arrive to the party, though a little late. Shaun King ran for one touchdown and threw for two despite a slow first half (4-of-12 for 45 yards and two sacks). Despite benefitting from turnovers and some strong rushing efforts by Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, the Bucs were unable to finish off drives. They had first and goal at the 8-yard line and had to settle for the first of two field goals by Martin Gramatica.

Last week the Bucs tried to sit on an 11-point lead and shut down their offense in the second half.This week they attacked the Bears. "We just didn't execute early in the game," offensive coordinator Les Steckel said. "So when we came in at halftime, we told them, 'Now that we've done our job of keeping our defense fresh for the second half, now we're going to come after them with the play-action passes after we'd run the ball so many times.' It worked out to our favor."

King completed 5-of-7 passes to drive the Bucs 90 yards on their first possession of the second half. His 13-yard strike to receiver Keyshawn Johnson in the back of the end zone gave Tampa Bay a 27-0 lead with 8:27 to go in the third quarter. With his next throw, King made it a laugher, hitting Jacquez Green on a crossing route for a 58-yard touchdown. "You could see with a lead like that and how our defense was playing, you can roll the dice a little bit," Steckel said. "And you want to open it up, you want to utilize the skills of your players. The greatest thing of all is when you have a defense that gets you four turnovers a game. Man alive, that's a spoiler."

All that was left was to see whether the Bucs would get the shut out. Tampa Bay emptied most of its bench in the fourth quarter as many starters became cheerleaders and generally tried to act like they knew what to do with themselves on the sideline late in a game. But the shut out was important to them, and they got it after a 42- yard field goal by Paul Edinger caught a gust of wind and sailed wide right. "You walk around with your chest out. You come in wanting to shut people out," defensive end Chidi Ahanotu said. "We don't get them too often. It's very special. I was yelling my head off out there to preserve the shutout. We had a lot of young guys out there, and I wanted to make sure they knew how important it was to this team and this defense."

Lynch and his teammates have put on the baseball cap before the final whistle, but usually it's when they're on the wrong side of a rout. "It was really unusual," Lynch said. "It's been awhile. The last time we were sitting over there in the fourth quarter was when we were getting the snot beat out of us in Oakland. It's a lot more enjoyable when the reason we're out is because we're smoking them. I'm sure people's impressions will be this really is a team to be reckoned with, and we feel like that, too. But in the same sense, we're going to keep a good perspective on things."

Coach Tony Dungy will see to it. "I told the team this is Round 2 of 16 rounds," he said. "You see guys start out fast and get knocked out in the 12th or 13th round. So we don't want to let that happen to us."