Bucs Let Secrets On Offense Out Of The Bag
The Bucs began the season 3-0 on Sunday. Past, present and future. Just ask the old pro. Derrick Brooks, Mr. Buc, thought he'd cost his team the game. He'd failed to fall on a Minnesota Vikings fumble near his team's end zone late in the fourth quarter. Now the opener, all that good work, seemed lost. Brooks was crushed. "I let my teammates down," Brooks said.

He went into the huddle apologizing. Ten men looked at him. "Let's go play," Simeon Rice said. And they did. All of them. Just ask the new kid.

With Jon Gruden having removed the bubble wrap, Carnell Williams had carried the load in his NFL debut, 26 times for 77 hard yards. Now Brian Kelly had picked off another pass to pick up Brooks. Now Cadillac Williams ran toward a hole made by, yes, that Bucs offensive line. "The hole was wide," Williams said. "Ever so wide."

The 27th carry. Seventy-one yards. Touchdown. Now there's something new. And he wasn't even the Bucs rookie who scored the most. "I mean, the future is bright," Williams said.

Never mind that the margin was razor thin, despite the 24-13 final. Never mind that the Vikings, from Daunte Culpepper on down, looked as if they'd smoked the rest of the stash Randy Moss left behind or that Minnesota had two touchdowns called back. Never mind that the Bucs defense had to hold on. It did. They all did. The perfect season lives. "Very proud of our team. Very proud," Gruden said.

Look, they went into a very loud place and beat a very good quarterback. Mind you, Gruden is countless brain cells ahead of Vikings coach Mike Tice, but any win anywhere works when you're coming off 5-11. Work this did. And then some. How about all three Bucs touchdowns made by rookies? That long one by Caddy to give him 148 yards rushing, plus two scoring grabs by tight end Alex Smith. Finally: The New Bucs.

How about the defense? It didn't look a year older. "How about a year younger?" Ronde Barber said.

Five turnovers forced. Just two field goals surrendered. What Minnesotan didn't miss Moss' butt, moon and all? "We are who we are," said Kelly, who started and finished with a pick.

Throw in Joey Galloway, five catches and 97 yards of him. And factor in typical Brian Griese. He giveth away on an 88-yard interception for a touchdown. But he taketh the Bucs downfield shortly after that, two long touchdown drives finished by great throws for Smith's scores. Who knows what all this means for the rest of the season? What Buc cared on Sunday? They'd lost 20 of their last 32 games. They went 1-7 on the road in 2004. The smiles were real as they left the field. And deserved to be. "A lot of people gave us no chance," Gruden said.

Yes, there were troubling signs, like the offense shutting down, like 13 penalties for 99 yards, like the defense wilting near the end. And just how many ever-so-wide holes will this offensive line make? The Bucs had only 77 yards on 28 carries before Caddy's flashy finish. This wasn't about shortcomings. There's time for that. Weeks and weeks of time, maybe even after next week's home opener with Buffalo. Sunday was about a fresh start.

And you couldn't get fresher looking than sweet kid Cadillac in his sweet new suit, with matching Carolina blue alligator shoes, belt, tie and cuff links. You had to smile as the kid thanked that nice Vikings fan for returning his touchdown ball, since he was so excited he threw it into the stands. Or when he mentioned he'd talked with his dad Saturday and they decided 150 yards would be a good start. "Came up 2 yards short," he said.

Cadillac Williams ran only 12 times in the preseason. Alex Smith caught just one pass. "Guess we were secrets," Smith said.

The secrets are out. And the defense can still play defense. By the way, on the Vikings' final possession, Culpepper was intercepted again. By Derrick Brooks. The Bucs are still just 1-0. "That's all," Brooks said. It only seemed like more.

Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune 12 September 2005