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Buccaneers Right Ship

Tampa Bay defense shakes off recent bad games and clamps down on Parcells and Dallas in a 16-0 win.

October 27, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

TAMPA, Fla. — After three weeks of making headlines for all the wrong reasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed a glimpse of their championship form Sunday and took care of an old insult in the process.

The Buccaneers, whose formerly top-ranked defense has looked surprisingly vulnerable at times this season, came through with a 16-0 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, allowing the visitors to cross the 50-yard line just once after the first quarter (and that was on a fumble recovery in Tampa Bay territory).

Making the shutout even sweeter, it came against Coach Bill Parcells, who jilted the Buccaneers twice over an 11-year span when the team tried to hire him. He turned down their offer in 1991, citing health reasons, and walked away from a signed four-year contract with them in early 2002.

But tweaking the Tuna wasn't the primary motivation of Tampa Bay's players. They simply were looking to get back on track after blowing a three-touchdown lead to Indianapolis in the final four minutes of an Oct. 6 game, and last week surrendering 458 yards -- as well as the distinction of being the No. 1 defense -- at San Francisco.

Asked if his defense had something to prove this week, Coach Jon Gruden said: "I think we all did."

It was the first home victory of the season for the Buccaneers (4-3), who have never lost two consecutive games under Gruden. They have rebounded strong from losses, too, winning seven "bounce-back" games over the last 1 1/2 seasons by an average of 18 points.

The Cowboys (5-2), who came into the game already having won as many games as they did in each of the last three seasons, were limited to 178 yards and never were able to take advantage of Tampa Bay's reshuffled secondary. Quarterback Quincy Carter endured four sacks and two interceptions.

Dallas converted three of 12 third downs.

"We're having trouble making first downs," Parcells said. "Third-and-one, third-and-short, it's ridiculous. We should be able to make a foot or a yard."

Chalk that up to the Buccaneer defense that had the added incentive of trying to upstage a Cowboy defense that began the game holding the top spot in the rankings.

Said Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber, who had eight tackles, an interception and forced two fumbles: "We played with a purpose today."

They also played without Pro Bowl safety John Lynch (shoulder) and cornerback Brian Kelly (chest).

There's not an NFL statistic for headaches, but the Buccaneers have had some of those lately. Namely, Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson.

In recent weeks, Sapp and Johnson have made far more news off the field than on it. Johnson wore a microphone during the loss to the Colts and sounded jealous as he knocked superior Indianapolis receiver Marvin Harrison in the first half.

Last week, after Johnson had only one catch in the 24-7 loss to the 49ers, his agent, Jerome Stanley, told a reporter Gruden too often ignores his client.

Johnson tried to calm the situation two days later, telling reporters, "There were plays that were called for me to get the football and it just didn't happen. I don't know if [Stanley] knew that or not when he opened his mouth."

Johnson, who made waves last week when he piled on praise for Parcells, had just one catch Sunday but it was a beauty. He scored the game's only touchdown with a seven-yard reception, just getting his knee down before tumbling out of bounds.

Sapp's out-of-bounds behavior has gotten the attention of the NFL, which recently fined the Pro Bowl defensive tackle $50,000 for a continued pattern of abusing officials. The league said Sapp has used vulgar language to berate officials, and intentionally bumped one before a game at Washington.

Sapp said he "barely brushed" the official and that it wasn't intentional.

There are other transgressions. He kicked end-zone pylons before the Washington and San Francisco games, compared the NFL to a "slave master" in a televised interview, and most recently allegedly made rude comments to a high school coach being honored by the Buccaneers.

Sapp, who said his detractors are exaggerating or outright lying, was in an understandably upbeat mood after the game.

"We had to come out today and play because they came out with the No. 1 offense [fourth, actually] and the No. 1 defense, five wins in a row and rolling, doing things they are supposed to do," he said, pausing. "It's still the Bucs."

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