Down to the wire
The names of the co-ordinators keep changing, but the same cannot be said of the offense they run. And you know what? Maybe the Bucs offense doesn't have to change. As long as the likes of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch are wearing pewter and red, the Bucs offense can stumble around for the better part of four quarters the way it did again Sunday and it won't matter. It won't as long as the Bucs defense turns in the kind of effort it produced against the Packers at sold out Raymond James Stadium.
One week after being humbled by a 96-yard, status-shaking, game-costing touchdown drive in Minnesota, the Bucs regained the defensive form that had made them one of the most heralded in the league.
By forcing three turnovers, including a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Shelton Quarles, the Bucs' defense matched the point total produced by the offense and made amends for last week's stumble by shutting down the Packers' last- ditch drive and preserving a 14-10 victory. "I think what happened a week ago [when Tampa Bay lost to the Vikings] was just a hiccup we had along the way," said cornerback Ronde Barber, who escorted Quarles into the end zone on his score. We let ourselves down last week, no doubt about it. But if this is what it takes for us to win, fine. We know that if we play aggressively on defense, we'll make some plays."
The biggest play the Bucs defense made Sunday was Quarles' return, which was the longest scoring play in Bucs history. The offense didn't produce a matching score until well into the fourth quarter. But when it did, it did so in typical Bucs fashion. Finishing off a 95-yard scoring drive that was the longest in franchise history, Mike Alstott rumbled 39 yards past a weary Packers defense for the game-deciding touchdown. "You play to your strengths," Sapp reasoned. "We run the ball and turn to our defense. Look, if you want to see an offensive juggernaut, I advise you to hop on a TWA flight and head to St. Louis."
If the Bucs keep playing the kind of defense they played Sunday, when they picked off Brett Favre three times and limited NFL rushing leader Ahman Green to 59 yards, they won't need an offensive juggernaut. But, as Coach Tony Dungy pointed out, they do have to become more productive offensively if they hope to reach the playoffs this year. "We've got to get the ball in the end zone more - that's what we're not doing a good job of," said Dungy, now 8-1 when the Bucs score a defensive touchdown. "We've got to score more than 14 points a game."
The Bucs appeared to be making some strides in that direction early on Sunday. They rediscovered tight end Dave Moore and receiver Reidel Anthony (three catches each), but penalties and sacks kept them from discovering not only the end zone, but the red zone.
A stout effort by the Packers' rush defense didn't help matters. Certain that the Bucs would stick with a run-oriented attack despite the absence of Warrick Dunn, the Packers allowed the Bucs to gain just 34 yards on 13 carries on first and second downs. The Bucs didn't do much better on third downs. Of the 53 offensive plays that didn't result in quarterback Brad Johnson being sacked (and there were five of those), the Bucs gained four yards or less 20 times.
The Bucs never veered from their game plan, though, and that patience paid off when Alstott used some key downfield blocks from Keyshawn Johnson and Jacquez Green to move 39 yards past that weary Packers defense and into the end zone with 6:45 left in the game. "Mike's kind of like a sledgehammer and you want to just keep hammering away at the rock, because you know eventually it's going to break," offensive co-ordinator Clyde Christensen said. "I know sometimes it looks like you're not even making a dent in it. But we knew if we kept pounding away at that rock, if we kept swinging the sledgehammer, we'd break it open."
Based on what happened a week ago in Minnesota, the Packers no doubt thought they could keep pounding away and eventually break up the Bucs' defense, too. And they nearly did. They moved the ball 76 yards on the first 10 plays of their final drive. However, a false-start penalty on the 11th snap, the Bucs' lone sack of the day on the 12th, and Lynch batting away Favre's pass on the final play sealed the victory. "It's no secret we're a defensive-oriented football team," Brooks said. "And when we play well on defense, if our offense can just get one more point [than our opponents] and leave it to us, that's fine. I mean, that's typical Bucs- Ball."
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune October 2001