Instant replay: Bucs vs. Eagles

Tampa looks to avenge 21-3 playoff loss last year

January 12, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers return to Philadelphia today with a chip on their shoulder, and they can only hope it's not an ice chip.

The warm-weather Bucs, notorious losers in cold temperatures, will attempt to avenge last year's playoff loss to the Eagles in an NFC wild-card rematch at Veterans Stadium.

The 21-3 postseason loss a year ago was haunting for the way the Eagles won, and the way they celebrated after it was over. The Bucs haven't forgotten.

"I think that is true and I think they probably had a right to," Bucs safety John Lynch said of the Eagles' show of emotion. "They took it to us pretty good and they were advancing in the playoffs. I think what you do with something like that is, you let it sit in your mind and sit in your gut and kind of just let it fester. ... That remains fresh in our mind and, most importantly, we have an opportunity to go up there and redeem ourselves."

Philadelphia, NFC East champs at 11-5, physically overwhelmed Tampa Bay's offense in that game. The Eagles allowed just 11 first downs and limited Bucs running back Warrick Dunn to 1 yard rushing on eight carries.

Tampa Bay signed quarterback Brad Johnson in the off-season to replace Shaun King as the starter, and trashed its run-first offensive philosophy. Relying on Johnson's short-passing game, the Bucs threw the third-most passes (592) in the NFL this season, and had the fifth-fewest rushing attempts (407).

Johnson threw for 3,406 yards, and more than a third of those went to wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson (1,266 yards on 106 catches).

"People think we dink and dunk a lot, but I think Brad understands where the football needs to go in crucial situations, and he tries his best to get it to me," said Keyshawn Johnson, who scored only one touchdown this season.

The Bucs, who got the NFC's sixth seed with a 9-7 record, will also test the Eagles' injury-depleted defensive line. Philadelphia ranked only 18th in rush defense, and lost defensive tackle Hollis Thomas two weeks ago with a broken foot.

Tampa Bay will likely pound inside with Mike Alstott, its 6-foot-1, 248-pound Pro Bowl fullback, to restore some balance to its offense. One key matchup will send rookie right tackle Kenyatta Walker against Eagles' Pro Bowl defensive end Hugh Douglas.

Said Walker: "We've got to go up there and run the ball, and run it down their throat."

Douglas did not dress in last week's regular-season finale, when the Eagles pulled out a meaningless 17-13 victory in a game played mostly by reserves.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have also upgraded their offense from last season. They added wide receivers James Thrash (free agency) and Freddie Mitchell (draft) to create a more reliable passing game.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for a third touchdown, in last year's playoff game. Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp remembers that, too.

"We let the quarterback out of the pocket. You can't do that," Sapp said. "Let this guy out of the pocket, he's going to kill you. To our left, his right. That's where he naturally can run, his shoulders are already square.

"Just play him within the framework of the defense. Don't ever go behind him because if you go behind him, you might as well buy his ticket to the end zone. ... If you don't know he's their whole team, you're blind."

The Bucs have any number of motivational tools. They are 0-20 in temperatures of 40 degrees or colder at kickoff. They are 0-5 in playoff games on the road. And there is speculation that coach Tony Dungy might be fired if the team doesn't advance deep into the postseason.

More than the cold, Dungy is concerned with the wind.

"That's the biggest factor, in which way the wind is blowing and how it affects the game. Other than that, I don't think it will really matter."

Said Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks: "The elements won't have anything to do with the game. If we go out and play well, it won't matter what the weather is, we'll win."

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