Tampa Bay earns the second road shutout in franchise history through stifling defense, precision passing and two return touchdowns, blanking the Ravens 25-0. Prior to the start of Sunday’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers-at-Baltimore Ravens game, the home team remembered Johnny Unitas in a variety of touching ways. Once the game began, Bucs passer Brad Johnson fashioned his own fitting tribute to the legendary quarterback. On one of his best days as a Buccaneer, Johnson completed over 75% of his passes as Tampa Bay picked up a 25-0 road win that was mostly devoid of tension. The Bucs shared in Baltimore’s emotion during the pregame, then drained all drama from the game itself by sprinting out to a 10-0 lead and rarely letting Baltimore onto its half of the field.
Johnson completed all five of his passes on the Bucs’ opening drive, leading to a 36-yard Martin Gramatica field goal, and WR Karl Williams followed five minutes later with a 56-yard punt return for a touchdown. Staked to a 10-0 lead, Tampa Bay’s defense needed no more, pitching just the second road shut out in franchise history (the first: a 35-0 victory at Cincinnati in 1998). The Bucs’ D, somewhat perturbed at its own performance in last Sunday’s opener, even tied a bow on the affair in the final minutes when LB Derrick Brooks intercepted QB Chris Redman’s pass at Tampa Bay’s three and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown.
About the only flaw in Johnson’s Unitas impression, and the sole lingering disappointment of the afternoon, was the inability of the Bucs’ offense to get the ball in the end zone. Unitas holds the NFL record with 47 consecutive games throwing a touchdown pass, but none of Johnson’s passes were into the end zone. In the end, Williams’ return – the fifth scoring runback of his career and the eighth in Bucs history – was the game’s only touchdown. Gramatica supported the effort with three field goals in three tries and the Bucs’ defense added a safety for good measure. Otherwise, Johnson was masterfully sharp. He completed his first nine passes, 15 of his first 16 and 24 of 31 overall 77.4%). Johnson’s passing found seven different targets and accounted for 211 yards, with no interceptions. For the first time since the Bucs win at Cincinnati last December 2, Johnson completed over 75% of his passes.
The Bucs dominated the day in all phases of the game. Tampa Bay’s defense surrendered just 173 yards and didn’t allow Baltimore to get closer than the Bucs’ 27-yard line until the Ravens’ second-to-last possession, which ended in Brooks’ pick. The one time Baltimore lined up for a field goal, a 55-yarder at the end of first half, DE Ellis Wyms blocked it. A good indication of how thoroughly the Bucs controlled the action was their 36 minutes of possession, 31 of which came in the first three quarters. After their first drive ate up half of the first quarter, the Bucs ran eight and a half minutes off the second quarter clock with another field goal drive. The big play on that march was a 24-yard pickup by RB Michael Pittman on third-and-nine from the Bucs’ 41. Pittman gave a sharp out move on the defender then cut inside, catching the pass on the run and eluding two more Baltimore tacklers after the catch. On the day, Pittman finished with 37 rushing yards and a team-high six receptions for 58 yards despite sitting out almost the entire fourth quarter with leg cramps.
Pittman’s successful day running the ball and the excellent protection Johnson enjoyed all day was a credit to the Bucs’ offensive line, which was criticized heavily after the season-opening loss. In Baltimore, that line allowed just one sack and often gave Johnson time to survey the field. Second-year man Kenyatta Walker regained his starting job at right tackle for the game, and right guard Cosey Coleman returned after missing five games with a knee injury.
The second half was played in a steady rain, courtesy of the same weather pattern that hammered Buccaneer practices all week. That might have contributed to a bizarre play to start the third quarter. RB Jamal Lewis tried to take a pitch from Redman but had the ball go through his hands at the Ravens’ 22. Several players tried to jump on the bouncing pigskin, but nobody could corral it, and it eventually bounced off S John Lynch and into the pylon at the corner of the end zone. By rule, that is a safety and the Bucs suddenly had a 15-0 lead. Lewis was impressively held in check all day. The Ravens’ bruising, 235-pound back was held to just 53 yards on 17 carries, with 28 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter and the Bucs up 18-0.
Tampa Bay also treated third-year QB Redman rudely, allowing only 16 completions in 38 attempts for 141 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Only six of those completions went to wide receivers, only three through the first three quarters. The third-quarter safety meant Baltimore had to kick off from its own 20, and Tampa Bay capitalized with another field goal drive. The biggest gainer on that march was a 22-yard pass over the middle to WR Keyshawn Johnson.