Red? Green? Whatever term, Bucs in a zone
The Tampa Bay offense has penetrated the opponent's 20 a dozen times. It has a dozen scores. For the Bucs, it is now the red-hot zone. Any time Tampa Bay ventures inside the opponent's 20-yard line - every time, in fact - the Bucs come away with points. A year ago, the Bucs were last in the NFL in touchdown percentage in the red zone.

But in Sunday's 31-10 win over the Lions, Tampa Bay extended to 12 its scoring streak this season with four touchdowns and a field goal. That perfection - nine touchdowns and three field goals - is the fulfillment of a promise by new offensive coordinator Les Steckel. "We've been through the field-goal barrage before," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "We want the six points. We have the weapons and the knowledge and the firepower to go out and get it done. I want that from (Steckel)."

Sunday, Steckel showed some creativity near the goal line to produce touchdowns against the Lions on a quarterback draw and a touchdown pass to guard Randall McDaniel utilized at fullback. With the Bucs trailing 3-0 and facing third and goal at the Detroit 6, Steckel emptied the backfield with King in shotgun formation and called a quarterback draw that resulted in a touchdown.

"The play we ran last week, we unloaded the backfield and threw the touchdown to Keyshawn (Johnson)," Steckel said. "In the past, what you find is, when you unload the backfield, they're not aware of the quarterback draw. And yet, a veteran player would be. I don't know who the player was on their defense, but he pointed to the quarterback prior to the snap. But no one was assigned to the quarterback as you were hoping, even though he pointed at him and I assume said, 'Watch the quarterback.' He still went off into pass coverage."

Fullback Mike Alstott bulled his way for a 4-yard touchdown run on the Bucs' second drive. Then Steckel got tricky again. On second and goal from the Detroit 2, Johnson split wide right and ran a slant, clearing the way for McDaniel to slip underneath and catch a soft pass from King. McDaniel had a second chance in the third quarter, but dropped a slightly underthrown ball from King in the end zone.

"We thought they might not cover Randall, and they didn't on two occasions," coach Tony Dungy said. "Unfortunately, he let the second one go through his hands. We've run it a lot. We actually ran it with Booger last year but just never had a chance to call it. We felt with Mike in the backfield they would gamble to try and stop the run. We probably should've called it on second or third down the time we got stopped, but we felt we could run it in."

The Bucs might have been 5-for-5 in touchdowns Sunday if not for McDaniel's drop and a penalty that erased an apparent touchdown pass to Dave Moore when McDaniel apparently did not report as an eligible receiver on the play. Instead, the Bucs' longest drive in franchise history - tying a 19-play drive against new Orleans in 1984 - resulted in a 24-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica. "We've just really put an emphasis on it," Dungy said of the red zone success. "I think Les and the coaching staff do a great job of preparing. Shaun understands what's going on down there. We have not gotten sacked down there. We haven't turned it over. We know we've got a good kicker and we mix very well down there."

For the record, Steckel refers to the red zone as the green zone, "because green means go."

According to Johnson, who shares the lead for touchdown catches with McDaniel this season, the offense is just beginning to take shape. "That's why I came," Johnson said. "I felt this team would go in the right direction, would improve a few wrinkles, a new offensive coordinator in there and get a new receiver. So far, so good. We've got 13 games left. You don't win championships in September."

Rick Stroud , The St.Petersburg Times 2000