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Buc Ball Smothers Eagles

Tampa Bay wins, 17-0, with tough defense and two highlight-reel touchdown catches by Jurevicius.

September 09, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — Upstaging Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp was no easy feat, but receiver Joe Jurevicius somehow found a way to do it.

Jurevicius made two unbelievable touchdown catches in a 17-0 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, one-upping the antics of Sapp, who humiliated his hosts by punctuating his first NFL catch by clownishly signaling first down.

It was Tampa Bay's smothering defense that had the Buccaneers so giddy. That defense, which paved the way for a Super Bowl victory seven months earlier, handed Philadelphia its first shutout since Sept. 26, 1999, when the Eagles suffered a 26-0 loss at Buffalo. They had not been blanked in 79 straight regular-season games.

The Buccaneers have won five consecutive games, counting last season's championship run, by a combined 138-37. The defense has allowed just three touchdowns during that span.

"No matter who we play, or where we play, we're going to play Buc ball," Sapp said. "That much is for sure."

Tampa Bay, angling to become the first team to repeat as league champions since the 1998 Denver Broncos, set the tone early with a goal-line stand in the first quarter. The Eagles failed to score on four chances from the one-yard line -- including an incomplete pass on a field-goal fake.

"We had an opportunity," Philadelphia Coach Andy Reid said. "We just didn't convert. They gave us some things there we thought we could take advantage of. Obviously, it didn't work."

The Eagles were booed at halftime and finished with 245 yards, much of which came in garbage time. By that point, thousands of people had already left Lincoln Financial Field, the team's dazzling new home that sits next to the sad hull of Veterans Stadium.

"It was frustrating because we started off slow," said quarterback Donovan McNabb, who had more rushing yards, 55, than quarterback-rating points, 51.6. "I put a lot of pressure on me. And then when we got things going, we had some penalties that hurt us."

The Buccaneers slammed the door on the old place -- beating the Eagles in the NFC championship game in January -- just as they opened it on the new one. The Eagles have yet to win in their $520-million palace, going 0-2 in the exhibition season.

Turned out, Tampa Bay needed only the 3-0 lead it took into halftime, but the Jurevicius touchdowns added two layers of icing. The first catch came late in the third quarter from the Philadelphia 13, when Brad Johnson floated a pass to the back corner of the end zone. Using every bit of his 6-foot-5 frame, Jurevicius out-leaped cornerback Lito Sheppard, made a fingertip grab and dabbed his toes inbounds.

On his second touchdown, a seven-yard catch that will be the talk of the water cooler in Tampa, Jurevicius made a one-handed tip to get the ball away from Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent, then pirouetted to his left around Vincent and beat cornerback Sheldon Brown to the fluttering ball in the end zone.

"That's sick," Sapp said. "Both of them. How do you do that?"

Jurevicius didn't even try to explain.

"I was just trying to make plays," he said, giving answers as flat as Philadelphia's offense. "Tonight I was just fortunate."

Before the game, the night had a magical feel for the Eagles and their fans. There was a half-hour pregame show featuring fireworks, a stirring video of Eagle history and the city's infatuation with its team, even a fist-pumping sendoff from Sylvester Stallone.

The symbolism was not lost on Tampa Bay safety John Lynch. "It was like the whole Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed fight," he said.

These teams have a storied history, with the Eagles beating Tampa Bay four consecutive times before losing to the Buccaneers in the playoffs last season. But never before have the Buccaneers rolled out a secret weapon as conspicuous as Sapp, who was a high school All-America tight end but had not caught a pass since 1991. He looked like a natural Monday, reeling in the ball and rumbling for a 14-yard gain.

"He looked pretty good," Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden said. "We're down one tight end and we may lean on Warren Sapp in a couple more capacities this year."

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