The defense suffers in silence
Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times, published 13 September 1999

After the 17-13 nightmare on Dale Mabry, nobody from a dominating but defeated Tampa Bay defense grabbed anybody from an erring, inept Bucs offense and squeezed real hard. No jury would've ...

You couldn't tell what Sapp, Lynch, Brooks, Barber, Ahanotu, Abraham, Culpepper and their defensive gang were really thinking. Sunday eyes were sad. Hearts aching. Teeth gritting. Minds confused. Working hard at diplomacy. "New York's defense scored some points," safety John Lynch said. "Maybe that's what we had to do."

Trent Dilfer had been an offensive catalyst, instrumental in the scoring of 30 points. Sadly for Tampa Bay, all but 13 were for the Giants. Nobody bashed Trent. What were they thinking?

Warren Sapp, the loquacious defensive tackle, was asked about Dilfer-hammering that had already started outside, on angry streets leading from the stadium, as incensed Bucs patrons took unhappy rides home. "I don't give a damn," Sapp said.

But, of course, he does. Just how well can your D play against a mediocre NFL adversary like the New York Giants and still come up with an L? Around here, it's a familiar but tiring tune. Will there ever, ever, ever be a Tampa Bay offense of which the Bucs defense can be truly proud? "Our defense played well enough to win," coach Tony Dungy said. "Defensively, we held the Giants pretty well." Frankly, they strangled New York's offense. Didn't really matter. Not with the Bucs coughing, gagging and embarrassing themselves on offense.

You'd think, when Tampa Bay's defense holds the Giants to an average of 1.1 yards per rush, it might be good enough to win. Kent Graham passed for just 91 yards. But the New York quarterback did not beat his team. Dilfer did. Giants made a whopping four first downs. Four. They were 1-for-14 on third-down conversions, a mighty 7 percent. New York netted 107 yards. "We felt our momentum and confidence was in great shape to open the season," Lynch said. "Then we go out a laid an egg."

Well, let's be honest, it was an offensive egg. Scrambled. Fried. Egg on Dilfer's face. "Sometime, your best ain't good enough," Sapp said, speaking of the defense. "Giants did what they needed to." A television guy stuck a microphone in Sapp's face and said something about Dilfer. "You want to ask a question?" growled the 284-pound defender. "You want to ask a question, or you want to leave?" It was sounding touchy but never did boil over.

Here's the worst of it. By not beating a so-so Giants team, the Bucs have amassed skyscraping problems for themselves. Next week, it's on the road to Philadelphia, where the Eagles will be trying to go 1-1. After that come Denver, Minnesota and Green Bay. Back to Sapp. A reporter baited a question with a little home-cooking kiss-up, saying how well Tampa Bay's defense performed against New York. "There's no silver lining to this cloud," Warren said, showing the famous smile.

At the end, the Bucs were begging for a miracle. One big play. One touchdown. New York led by four points. When the grand chance seemed to appear on a Jacquez Green punt return to the Giants 7, a penalty for an illegal block sent the football back to the Tampa Bay 23. There would be no miracle. No call from the governor. No escaping Old Sparky, in the football sense. No lucking out. Officials called the foul on Brian Kelly. It was, in reality, Damien Robinson. "I thought it was a good block," Robinson said. "It was a questionable call. A lousy call, really." Tampa Bay was too deep into mess-up mode. When the Giants challenged a late reception by Karl Williams, asking for review by instant replay, there came an episode of Zebra in the Hood before that call was reversed, going against the Bucs.