Bucs Batter Rams
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 24 September 2002

Monday was a night of discovery for the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium. While the St. Louis Rams failed once again to solve the riddle of the Bucs' Cover 2 defense, the Bucs offense rediscovered the end zone in a 26-14 victory before a crowd of 65,652.

Ending an offensive dry spell in which they went 16 drives without scoring a touchdown, the Bucs offense reached the end zone twice in beating the Rams and extending their winning streak against St. Louis to a league- best three games. Tight end Rickey Dudley notched the first of the two scores, hauling in a 9-yard pass from Brad Johnson late in the second quarter. Fullback Mike Alstott scored the second, rumbling in from the 2 midway through the fourth quarter.

Dudley's score gave the Bucs a TD for the first time since the fourth quarter of their season opener against New Orleans. And while they did manage to match it later in the game, the Bucs' defense made sure they didn't have to score a hat trick to beat the Rams. After surrendering a touchdown during their initial series, the Bucs held St. Louis to only one score the rest of the way, limiting St. Louis to 20 points or less for the only the eighth time since the start of the 1999 season.

It was, however, the third time in four tries that the Bucs have held the Rams to 20 points or less. And they did it in what has become typical Bucs fashion. With a pass rush that increased in effectiveness as the night progressed, the Bucs hit Rams quarterback Kurt Warner 18 times, sacked him five times and intercepted him four times. The first two of those four picks - by defensive end Simeon Rice late in the second quarter and by cornerback Brian Kelly midway through the fourth - set up the Bucs' two offensive touchdowns.

The fourth was intercepted by Derrick Brooks, who came back after injuring a knee and returned the ball 39 yards for a touchdown, his second in as many weeks. Dexter Jackson had the other pick, which came at end of the first half and in the middle of an uncanny defensive stand. Unable to pull themselves out of deep holes offensively, the Bucs allowed the Rams to get the ball back at their own 48 once and at the 50 on two occasions midway through the game. Stymied by the Bucs' defense and the loss late in the second quarter of running back Marshall Faulk, the Rams gained just 42 net yards during those three drives and never scored. ``They have what I would say is one of the greatest runners in the game,'' Warren Sapp said of Faulk. ``Once he was out of the ballgame, we really took aim at Kurt Warner and said we were going to punish him from that point on.''

The Bucs were true to their word. Each of their sacks came in the second half, and two of their picks came during that span. ``Our defense was just dominating in the second half,'' Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. ``I think that became obvious to America.''

The offense looked dominant at times, especially early. Just as they'd hoped to, the Bucs' offense struck quickly Monday night. The only problem was, they didn't strike with the same impact the Rams did. In extending the number of drives in which they failed to score a touchdown, the Bucs moved the ball 109 yards during their first two offensive series but settled for field goals at the end of each. The Rams, meanwhile, responded during their first series by moving the ball 91 yards on nine plays, the last of which was a 5-yard run into the end zone by Faulk that gave St. Louis an early 7-6 lead.

The Rams were in position to pad their lead late in the second quarter, but an effective blitz forced Warner to throw quickly and off-target on a second-and-nine play from the Bucs' 16. Firing the ball directly into the hands of defensive end Rice, who returned the ball 30 yards, Warner handed the Bucs the last scoring chance of the half and on this occasion they cashed in. Finishing a seven-play drive that was nearly derailed twice by penalties, Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson connected with a wide-open Dudley on a 9- yard TD pass to give the Bucs a 13-7 lead that they carried into the locker room at halftime.

The catch for Dudley was one of six in the first half by Bucs tight ends, who also were part of the rediscovery Monday night. Prior to Monday, Bucs tight ends had caught just three passes, two by Ken Dilger. Against the Rams, Dilger, Dudley and Todd Yoder accounted for eight passes. ``We really pounded 'em tonight,'' Johnson said. ``It really was fun,'' said Dilger, who had five of the eight catches by tight ends. ``Our defense played so well tonight - Derrick Brooks and all the guys - and they pulled it out. We beat a good team on `Monday Night Football,' and now everybody around the country knows what we're all about.''