Grisly win over Bears
After games like Sunday's, Bucs fans feel as if their emotions have been left too long in the blender. There's a defensive victory to celebrate and an offense still being cursed. Upon leaving Raymond James Stadium, there was the usual grumbling of patrons convinced quarterback Trent Dilfer can't throw.
But the important thing is that linebacker Derrick Brooks can catch. Brooks set a career high by intercepting two passes - including one to preserve the victory with 51 seconds left - in the Bucs 6-3 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. "They gave us enough points to win the game today," said Warren Sapp. "That's the biggest thing on any offense or any game you're playing. "You get enough points to win and you've got to have the defensive personnel that know how to go out there and get it done."
It was a classic game in the black-and- blew division. The Bucs mustered two field goals by rookie Martin Gramatica in the first half and Dilfer wasted several chances to hit open receivers for touchdowns. The victory was the Bucs' fourth in a row against Chicago and snapped a two-game losing streak. At 3-3, Tampa Bay is one game behind NFC co-leaders Detroit (4-2) and Green Bay (4-2) entering Sunday night's game against the Lions at the Silverdome.
It has been 20 years since the Bucs won a game with fewer points, dating to their 3-0 win against Kansas City in the '79 season finale that clinched the NFC Central title. Sunday's game marked the fifth time in six games the Bucs failed to score at least 20 points. "I guarantee you we all feel better than when we played pretty well at Green Bay and lost," said coach Tony Dungy. "Winning is what we get paid for. We know we have to play better to win on the road. "The last two weeks before this, we were doing just enough to lose. Today we did just enough to win and there's a big difference."
After his post-game press conference, Dungy said he would consider replacing Dilfer as the starter with backup Eric Zeier for Sunday's game at Detroit. But he did not appear to be leaning toward a change. "I'm really not one to change quarterbacks in the middle of the game. And I guess we'll just let it go at that," he said. "You've got to hit guys that are open and we've got to catch them. We have to throw the ball better. We've got to find out a way to do that."
If Dilfer is concerned about losing his starting job, he managed to mask it. "It's unfortunate. I didn't play my best game," Dilfer said. "I can think of three of four throws I wish I had back. And that's football. I'm not going to slit my wrists tonight because I had a few bad throws. We won the game. I did what I needed to do to win the game and that's it. "My personal evaluation, I played very poorly for a 10-play stretch against New York. And from that point until a few (bad) throws, I've played very good football. Anybody that wouldn't say that hasn't been watching the same films I have."
Dilfer and the Bucs never seemed to recover from blowing easy touchdown opportunities in the first quarter. Fullback Mike Alstott (14 rushes, 72 yards) carried four times for 41 yards to drive the Bucs to the Chicago 20. On second down, running back Warrick Dunn watched Bears safety Tony Parish fall to the ground trying to cover him and was alone in the end zone when Dilfer sailed a pass over his outstretched arms.
On the next play, wideout Jacquez Green beat cornerback Tom Carter to the end zone but he was forced by Dilfer's pass to catch the ball out of bounds. The errant throws became a catastrophe when Gramatica, who had made his first 10 field goals as a rookie - one shy of tying the NFL record - had his 43-yard attempt clang off the left upright. Helater missed from 34 yards. Dilfer took responsibility for the overthrow to Dunn, but not on the pass that Green caught out of bounds.
"From my standpoint, the one to Warrick, I probably tried to throw it a little too soon," Dilfer said. "The timing wasn't the same as it had been all week in practice. I don't know what the pass rush situation was. I probably need to hold on a little bit and let him set his angle. "The one to Jacquez was more of a throwaway than anything else. The ball was snapped on one, it was supposed to be on two. The linemen didn't get out of their stance and there were people coming free. I was trying to get the ball out of my hand."
The Bucs defense, which had been humbled in back-to-back defeats at Minnesota and Green Bay in which it yielded 814 yards, was not about to be beaten by Bears rookie Cade McNown. Making only the second start of his career, filling in for injured quarterback Shane Matthews, McNown struggled. He completed 9- of-23 passes for 82 yards and was sacked twice.
The Bears' first seven possessions ended in punts and McNown was benched in the third quarter after Brooks' first interception.He was replaced by Jim Miller. The move almost worked. Miller put the Bears in scoring position twice. The first time, place-kicker Chris Boniol hooked a field goal left. The second time, the Bucs narrowly escaped disaster when safety John Lynch dove to bat away a pass to Bobby Engram in the end zone.
The Bears settled for Boniol's 28-yard field goal and got the ball back with one time out and 1:43 remaining. But Brooks made the game-clinching interception on a pass intended for Ryan Wetnight with 45 seconds left. Despite the Bucs' inability to score and their lapses on defense, they remain in the thick of the race for an NFC Central title. "It's ridiculous," said Bucs defensive end Chidi Ahanotu. "We had a bye week and we went up a notch. It's just that kind of season. "And it's on us. If we don't take advantage of that, this wacky year where everybody's in it, it's our own fault."
Rick Stroud , The St.Petersburg Times 1999