Bucs show defense still rules, picking off their piece of glory

Legacy, scrambler lacking, but `rock' defense does job

January 28, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO - One team had no legacy to speak of, unless you speak of futility. The other had a whole Raider Nation and a national mystique.

One team had a pocket passer in an era that screams for scramblers. The other had a mobile quarterback who helped set today's standards.

One team had a bearded owner who was an outsider in these high-rolling NFL circles. The other had a rogue owner who once led an insurrection against the NFL - and won.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued to shatter stereotypes, formulas and profiles in the 2002 playoffs. The Oakland Raiders just shattered.

In the end, it was the team with no legacy, Brad Johnson in the pocket and outsider Malcolm Glazer at the top that dictated terms in Super Bowl XXXVII. But Tampa Bay's 48-21 demolition of the Raiders' mystique may have been predictable for one very important reason.

Defense.

Like the 200-pound stone that came to represent the team's season-long mantra, "Pound the rock," the Bucs' defense didn't budge against the NFL's most prolific offense. In fact, that defense scored more points (21) than the league's best offense (15).

This is no accident: The past three Super Bowl champions have been defense-inspired, offense-challenged. That was inescapable even to an offensive coach such as the Bucs' Jon Gruden.

"Well, I learned a long time ago that defense wins championships," Gruden said yesterday. "And if you have a great defense, your offense is going to get numerous opportunities to score.

"Our defense clearly illustrated that last night."

History clearly illustrates that as well. No. 1-rated defenses are 7-for-7 in the Super Bowl in non-strike seasons. Only the 1982 Miami Dolphins' No. 1 defense failed to measure up in what was an abbreviated strike year.

This Tampa Bay defense proved extraordinary in one way that usually surfaces in Super Bowl champions - turnovers. The Bucs forced 38 turnovers during the season, tied for third-most in the league. And they intercepted a league-high 31 passes in the regular season, six more than the team with the second-most, the Ravens.

The Bucs had nine more interceptions in three postseason games. Amazingly, they returned four for touchdowns, including three against Oakland's Rich Gannon.

Indeed, it is time for historical comparisons now. Tampa Bay has its title and a place in history. Though few consider the Bucs' defense the equal of the Ravens' dominating 2000 one, it at least rates consideration.

"I'm not a historian that way," Gruden hedged. "The Baltimore Ravens and the two-gap system [in which the defender is responsible for two gaps] that they ran a couple years ago, from a firsthand basis I can tell you they were unbelievable.

"But for a one-gap football team that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put on the field this year ... we're very good at playing the pass. And you see teams that want to try to run the ball against us during the season with big backs, we were able to defend that, also.

"Now, this is a great defensive team. It needs to be, I think, someplace in the history books. I think they need to get some respect for that."

With cornerbacks Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith and safeties John Lynch and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Dexter Jackson, the Bucs' secondary is second to none - even the Philadelphia Eagles', with their three Pro Bowl picks.

Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who may have moved into a prime spot for the vacant San Francisco 49ers' coaching job with this performance, kept the Raiders off balance with his intricate blitz schemes.

How good were the Bucs in the postseason? They made three of the NFL's best quarterbacks - the 49ers' Jeff Garcia, Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb and Gannon - look overmatched.

That brings up another comparison, coaching. The Bucs not only outplayed the Raiders by a wide margin, but they out-coached them as well. The mentor, Gruden, mastered the pupil, Bill Callahan.

Gruden had Gannon's number, literally and physically, in this Super Bowl. During the week, Gruden actually played scout-team quarterback for the Bucs to show his defense some tendencies and create a more accurate picture of what they would face. Who better than Gruden to play the role?

"I just wanted the team to get a feel for what it was going to be like," Gruden said. "I don't know how clearly I illustrated it. It's hard to be Rich Gannon, obviously.

"But I did want them to feel a certain image that Rich Gannon was going to present. And Rich is very unique. He changes plays two or three times. He can change [pass] protections. And I wanted our players to feel like it was indeed going to be a bit of a mind game when they're in that no-huddle offense."

Whether it was Gruden's impersonation or not, the Bucs owned Gannon on Sunday. Five interceptions sealed the deal.

Consider the stereotypes shattered. The best team won.

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