Gruden bowl: Bucs, Raiders

Tampa reverses fortune, 27-10

First-year coach of Bucs oversees upset of Eagles behind Johnson's passing

Nfl Playoffs

January 20, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - There was no table left unturned at Veterans Stadium last night, no ghosts not exorcised.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers swept away two years of playoff debris here with a stunning 27-10 upset of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game to advance to Super Bowl XXXVII . They will play the Oakland Raiders in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.

The Bucs took a page from the underdog Super Bowl champions of the previous two years and stamped it with their own imprint. They won with stifling defense, a gloved quarterback and a courageous wide receiver.

They won in their personal house of horrors, where they'd ended their past two seasons with lopsided losses to the Eagles.

But not this year. Not with first-year coach Jon Gruden knocking down the barriers. Not with the kind of time quarterback Brad Johnson had to throw the ball.

"This was kind of like that movie, The Wizard of Oz: Ding, dong, the witch is dead," Gruden said later, still wet from his celebratory sideline shower in sub-freezing temperatures. "We won a cold [weather] game again, a road playoff game and we scored a touchdown here at the Vet. So hopefully, some of those stories will go away."

The Bucs (14-4) had never won a playoff game on the road. They hadn't scored an offensive touchdown in Philadelphia in either of their two previous playoff losses, or in a Week 7 game this season. They were notoriously the team that couldn't win in cold weather. All past tense now.

Ding, dong, the witch is dead.

"We have our own expectations and we try not to deal with what's going on in the outside world," said cornerback Ronde Barber, whose 92-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:12 left sent 66,713 numb Eagles fans trundling toward the exits and the off-season."

Tampa's No. 1 rated defense lived up to its reputation. With the exception of a 20-yard touchdown run by Duce Staley on the game's second play, the Bucs took away Philadelphia's running game. More telling, they harassed quarterback Donovan McNabb into a timid, tentative performance.

McNabb completed 26 of 49 passes for 243 yards, but had the interception by Barber and lost two fumbles while attempting to pass. Once, former Chicago high school teammate Simeon Rice created the havoc, saving points at the end of the half. Another time it was Barber on a corner blitz.

For all the buildup about Philadelphia's blitz-happy defense, it was the Bucs who achieved the greater quarterback pressure. McNabb appeared nervous in the pocket and had no rhythm in the passing game, often missing even short passes.

The Eagles, who lost their second straight championship game, had their chances early to gain a stranglehold on the game, but couldn't capitalize on some extremely favorable field position. A 70-yard kickoff return by Brian Mitchell set up Staley's touchdown. Despite starting three possessions in the first half in Tampa territory, all they had to show for it was 10 points.

After the Bucs fell behind in the first 52 seconds of the game, they simply regrouped. "We took a deep breath and started over," Gruden said.

"The biggest thing for us, we didn't panic after the big kickoff return and we didn't panic about my [first-quarter] interception," Johnson said.

The Bucs answered the Eagles' opening salvo with a 48-yard Martin Gramatica field goal, then got pinned at their own 4 after the Johnson interception. The bad field position seemed ominous.

But moments later, the game turned - dramatically. Bucs receiver Joe Jurevicius beat linebacker Barry Gardner on a crossing route and then outraced the Eagles' secondary for a 71-yard gain to the Philadelphia 5.

It took two plays for Mike Alstott to reach the end zone. At 10-7, the Bucs had momentum and inspiration.

Jurevicius missed three days of practice last week after his wife delivered a premature son and there were complications. Jurevicius missed the team flight on Friday, but arrived Saturday.

"I basically knew if Joe got on a plane, Joe was playing and Joe was squared away," Gruden said.

"My baby has been fighting all week and it has been an emotional roller coaster of a week," Jurevicius said. "The best day of my life was Tuesday when he was born and then it was up and down all week. I called to the hospital before I came over to the field and a nurse told me he was a fraction of an inch better and that was all I needed to hear."

The last thing Johnson wanted to hear was that he needed to wear a glove on his throwing hand. But Gruden insisted because Johnson has a history of having difficulty with a wet or slick ball. Johnson fretted. "I had a hard time sleeping last night," he said.

Johnson then proceeded to slice and dice the Eagles' defense with that glove. He completed 20 of 33 throws for 259 yards and a slick 9-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn Johnson at the end of that half. That gave Tampa a 17-10 lead.

The Bucs' game plan was to attack the Eagles' defense and worked wonderfully, producing scoring drives of 96 and 80 yards.

"We were going to attack at all costs," Johnson said. "We switched up protections from our three-receiver set to our regular set all night. Our offensive line was dominating."

NFL playoffs

Conference championships

Yesterday

NFC

Tampa Bay 27, Philadelphia 10

AFC

Oakland 41, Tennessee 24

Super Bowl XXXVII

Sunday

At Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego Tampa Bay (14-4) vs. Oakland (13-5), 6:18 p.m., chs. 2, 7. Line: Oakland by 3 1/2 .

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