Smackdown
You've seen this before from these guys. You saw it last year and the year before that. You've seen it so much you're no doubt getting sick of seeing it. The Bucs offense still can't outscore its defense. Luckily for the Bucs, it still doesn't have to. On an overcast Sunday that ended with Keyshawn Johnson giving Jon Gruden his first Gatorade shower as Bucs coach, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin seemed the more deserving target. It was Kiffin's defense that shined. In dealing the Ravens a 25-0 setback that steadied Tampa Bay's record at 1-1, the Bucs defense pitched a shutout for only the fifth time in franchise history and matched the offensive output by scoring nine points. "From the very start, you could just feel it,'' safety John Lynch said. ""We were on our game today.''

Erasing the concern generated by their slow start in last week's opener, the Bucs limited the Ravens to an average gain of 2.8 yards per play, had three sacks and scored points on both turnovers. A fumble by quarterback Chris Redman resulted in an early third quarter safety and Derrick Brooks' 97-yard touchdown interception return of a Redman pass came in the game's waning moments. It was the second-longest play of any kind in club history, surpassed only by linebacker Shelton Quarles' 98-yard interception return for a touchdown last year against Green Bay. Brooks' shutout-saving pick came at the end of a 12-play, 50-yard march that was the Ravens' longest of the day. Prior to that, the Ravens had not moved the ball more than 43 yards in any one drive and never drove deeper than the Tampa Bay 35-yard line. "The defense was super today, just super,'' a soaked Gruden said. "But everybody contributed to this one.''

Special teams contributed the most. Karl Williams returned a punt 56 yards for a touchdown and Martin Gramatica kicked three field goals. The Bucs also blocked a field goal. The offense played a major role as well. Though it failed to put the ball in the end zone, it never turned the ball over and moved the ball consistently, escaping deep holes on nearly half its possessions. "We had horrible field position all day,'' said Gruden, whose team started only one drive beyond its 30-yard line. "But we did a great job of managing the ball and we had some long drives.''

The longest was a 17-play, 82-yard drive in the second quarter. It was the team's longest drive in terms of plays since since Oct. 9, 2000, when the Bucs drove 71 yards in 19 plays against the Vikings. Just as they did then, though, the Bucs wound up with only three points to show for their effort. That remains a concern. "We've got to do a better job of finishing drives,'' said right guard Cosey Coleman, who returned to the lineup after missing the previous five weeks with a knee injury. "You can never be mad about getting points, but we need to get touchdowns.''

There were times Sunday when the Bucs didn't really try to get touchdowns. That was certainly the case in the second half, when confidence in their defense and a 15-point lead dictated the Bucs not take chances throwing the ball in the end zone. "We had three or four plays dialed up that called for us to throw into the end zone,'' said quarterback Brad Johnson. "But we really didn't get a chance to throw it in there.''

The Ravens had a hand in keeping the Bucs out of the end zone. Johnson said so few teams have reached the red zone while playing the Ravens that they were somewhat uncertain how to attack them once they got near the goal line. "Nobody's really gotten there [red zone] on them, so there wasn't a lot of film to look at,'' said Johnson, who completed each of his first eight passes and drove the Bucs into the red zone four times. ""That's why I think it's a tribute to us that we even got there against them.''

Getting to the red zone is indeed half the battle, but the Bucs realize they'll have to get to the end zone to beat teams like St. Louis, which is up next. That's why Sunday's victory still seemed unsatisfying to some. Though they showed marked improvement in many areas, including the play of the offensive line, which provided Johnson with ample protection and helped break some big gainers in the run game, there is work to be done.

The Bucs especially need to make strides in the run game. They gained just 2.5 yards per carry on 30 rushes against the Ravens. Eliminating penalties remains a problem as well. A holding penalty charged to Joe Jurevicius helped kill a late third quarter drive and a pair of false start penalties one charged to Todd Yoder, the other to Kerry Jenkins forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal after setting up with a first down at the Baltimore 9. "We need to look at why we were unsuccessful running the ball,'' said center Jeff Christy. "Was it because we had mental errors? Was it because we had physical breakdowns? We need to diagnose those problems and fix them.''

The defense doesn't need any fixing. After a slow start last week, it appears to have made all the corrections necessary. "We felt bad about what happened last week,'' Kiffin said. "We felt bad, but Jon didn't second-guess us. He just challenged us to step up in our meeting [Saturday] night and we did.''

Roy Cummings The Tampa Tribune 16 September 2002