Bucs Defense Allows Unthinkable To Happen
It's hard to imagine any team running for more than 300 yards on the Bucs defense. Perhaps because it's never been done before - until Sunday. The Bucs set a franchise record for rushing yards allowed with 306 as the Falcons ran to a 14-3 win at the Georgia Dome. Atlanta's effort topped the 299 yards the Bucs allowed against the Los Angeles Rams in 1984. It's big news when Tampa Bay's defense gives up more than 100 yards rushing. The unit did that only five times last season, when it was No. 1 overall in the league and fifth against the run.

"It doesn't happen, but it happened [Sunday]," Anthony McFarland said. "We didn't play well and when you don't play well, it just rolls downhill on you. It did like that to us [Sunday]."

Two games into the season, the Bucs are allowing an average of 204.5 rushing yards per game. Two years ago, the Falcons did what was considered unthinkable at the time when they racked up 205 rushing yards in a 24-14 victory against the Bucs. You have to go back nine years for the last time the Bucs allowed an individual to rush for more than 200 yards, when Detroit's Barry Sanders ran for 215 yards on Oct. 12, 1997.

Atlanta running back Warrick Dunn and quarterback Michael Vick did the bulk of their damage in the first half when they combined for 166 rushing yards. Dunn finished with 134 and Vick wasn't far behind with 127. The 306 yards also established a single-game rushing record for Atlanta. "[Vick] saw some openings early," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "He did a good job of recognizing some defenses and when he could take a chance and run the football. They did a good job of trying to create some matchups in the first half. The second half, we came in and settled down and did a good job of keeping them off the scoreboard."

Granted, the Bucs were able to hold the Falcons scoreless in the second half, although Atlanta kicker Michael Koenen, who missed three field goal attempts and had another blocked, had a lot to do with that. But Atlanta's running game helped the Falcons win the important time-of-possession battle - 34:09 to the Bucs' 25:51.

Last week in its upset of the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta put up 252 rushing yards. The Bucs knew going in that the Falcons offense featured more designed run plays for Vick than it had in the past, but that knowledge didn't help in stopping the league's most elusive quarterback.

"No. 7 just adds a whole other aspect to their running game," defensive tackle Ellis Wyms said. "There's probably not another quarterback in the league that can do the type of things he can do on that bootleg. When they're running the zone play with Warrick Dunn, you have to account for Warrick, and Vick pulls that ball and there's not too many guys in the league that can outrun him to the sideline. You have to account for him or account for Warrick. You pick one and the other's going to hurt you. They just outschemed us."

As disturbing as the 306 yards were, it doesn't compare to the team's 0-2 record. "We could have given up zero yards rushing, but we still lost," McFarland said. "We've just got to go back and realize it's Week 2 and we didn't play well. We've got to continue to get better."

Katherine Smith, The Tampa Tribune 18 September 2006