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NFL SPOTLIGHT

Dungy's Colts Face a Difficult Task

October 06, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

This defense is anything but the Big Easy.

That's the message the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to send tonight to Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning, coming off a 55-21 rout of New Orleans in which he threw for six touchdowns and compiled the highest possible passer rating.

"I think you have to take [that performance] with a grain of salt," Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp told reporters last week. "It's not us. You look at them put up 55 against New Orleans and we laugh at it. That's not going down."

Manning, facing Tampa Bay for the first time, knows full well what he's up against in the league's No. 1 defense, which has allowed one touchdown this season -- on a two-yard drive.

"The film just does not lie," Manning said. "When you watch the film, you see outstanding players, you see great speed, you see guys that are always in the right position, you see a very disciplined team. So I don't need anybody to tell me that."

The game not only pits the undefeated Colts (4-0) against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers (2-1), it marks the return of Tony Dungy to Tampa, Fla.

He was fired by the Buccaneers after the 2001 season despite turning around the franchise.

He took over a team that had endured 13 consecutive losing seasons and led it to the playoffs four times in six years.

In his second season as coach of the Colts, Dungy already has had a major effect on the defense.

The Colts have allowed 11.9 points a game through four games, a far cry from the 30.4 they surrendered the season before Dungy arrived. That total was the fourth-worst in league history.

"I think the biggest thing so far this year is that everybody's understanding what his philosophy is about and what he wants," Manning said. "I think any time you have a new boss, sometimes it takes a little time to understand kind of what he expects from us.

"I think guys are starting to catch on [to] the importance of protecting the ball, of creating turnovers, of being very penalty-disciplined and playing well on special teams. And so far, we're doing those three things, and that's really what is helping us win so far."

Dungy has tried to downplay his return to Tampa, saying the focus should be on what happens on the field. But he's still very popular in the area -- despite the good feelings about current Coach Jon Gruden -- and is expected to get a warm reception.

"I've always said, when Dungy walked in, he had a nasty kitchen," Sapp said. "He made this kitchen eatable, a place where people want to come. In the middle of him baking this cake, leaving it at the proper temperature and leaving it in the oven, they switched cooks.

"So Jon got a chance to pull it out and put the icing on it, and we lit the candles. So we got a beautiful cake."

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