Bucs' defense is all the rage on football's biggest stage

January 27, 2003|By Mike Preston

SAN DIEGO - The unofficial end of Super Bowl XXXVII came with 8 minutes and 48 seconds left in the second quarter. Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon had just escaped the pass rush of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Ellis Wyms, and as he stepped up in the pocket, he ducked.

Only one problem: There was no one chasing him. Then, within seconds, Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice circled in for the kill and the sack. And from that point on, we didn't hear much again from Gannon, receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, and running back Charlie Garner.

The Raiders had two long touchdown passes in the second half, but one was off a busted play, and the other came when Tampa Bay was in that dumb prevent defense. When it counted, the Bucs' defense came through in the beginning and in the end as linebacker Derrick Brooks inter cepted a Gannon pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown with 1:18 remaining in the game to finish off Oakland, which had pulled within 34-21.

You can try just about any superlative for the Bucs' defense last night. Smothering. Dominating. Intimidating. Tampa Bay simply overwhelmed Oakland, 48-21, at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Bucs don't have a name for their defense yet, but they'll start comparing this one soon to the Doomsday, Steel Curtain, Purple People Eaters, the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Ravens.

Are they as good as those defenses?

Who knows?

Actually, who cares?

Tampa Bay has the league's top defensive end in Rice, the best defensive tackle in Warren Sapp, the No. 2 big-play linebacker after Ray Lewis in Brooks and one of the hard est-hitting strong safeties in John Lynch.

There is one other person that is often overlooked - defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Tampa Bay's defense is the one that was built by Tony Dungy, but Kiffin has added his personal touches.

More importantly, the same structure has been in place for quite a while. And unless Kiffin gets hired away, it won't change much because the Buccaneers aren't in need of a lot of salary cap relief.

So move over Joe Greene and Jack Lambert, and Rich ard Dent and Mike Singletary. The Bucs are looking for their own place in history.

They simply overwhelmed the Raiders last night. Al Davis' boys came into the game averaging 28.1 points and 389.8 yards, including 279.7 passing yards. They left with Gannon looking shell shocked and those big, huge over weight offensive linemen searching for oxygen masks. In the words of Muhammad Ali, the Raiders couldn't hit what their eyes couldn't see.

Tampa Bay is all about speed. They aren't as physical as the old Cowboys and Steelers, and they don't have that combination of brute strength and speed like the 1985 Bears and 2000 Ravens, but they pursue and get to the ball. They have enough speed to offset teams, and that's what they did to the Raiders. The only thing that can be as ugly as an out-of-sync run-and-shoot offense is a West Coast offense.

Gannon didn't even have time to complete the short passes to Rice and Brown, which had become the staple of Oakland's offense. At times, Rice made left offensive tackle Barry Sims look ridiculous. Which play did he make Sims look the worst? Was it on the that quick step to the outside and then coming back hard inside to sack Gannon with 10:40 left in the first quarter, or was it the hard rush inside past Sims, which forced Gannon to throw his first inter ception with :09 left in the first quarter?

Sims wasn't alone in stinking up the joint. Left end Greg Spires made right offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy look slow. As for Sapp, there have been knuckleheads in the past couple of weeks who have said he isn't a dominating factor anymore.

Well, ask Oakland guards Mo Collins and Frank Middleton if Sapp isn't still one of the most dominating forces.

The Raiders feared the Bucs right from the beginning. With 5:46 left in the first quarter and holding a 3-0 lead, the Raiders took possession at the Tampa Bay 49. This was a time to go for something big, a chance to gain a nice lead early.

Instead, the Raiders ran Zack Crockett up the middle on the first two downs for six yards. On third down, Gannon threw incomplete on a short pass to Jerry Porter.

End of threat.

If the Bucs weren't intimidating the Raiders, they sure outcoached them on the defensive side of the ball. It's as if Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, who coached the Raiders in the previous four years, knew exactly where Gannon was going to throw. Gannon seemed to be baited into two of his five interceptions.

The second one came with 10:06 left in the first half. Gannon tried to loft a pass over the middle to Porter, but free safety Dexter Jackson, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, read the play perfectly, intercepted the pass and re turned it 25 yards to the Oakland 45. Gannon pump-faked to his left to try to draw Jackson over, but Jackson still sat on the rout.

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