The special teams got it right this time
Long snapper Ryan Benjamin sat alone at his locker after Sunday's 31-10 victory against Atlanta. The setting was much different than last week, when a mob surrounded him wanting to know what went wrong. ``I figured as long as I'm sitting here and everybody ignores me, I did my job,'' Benjamin said.
A week after special teams breakdowns led to three blocked kicks, including what would have been a game-winning extra point, the beleaguered unit - with a few changes - rebounded with a solid performance. CB Tim Wansley replaced WR Karl Williams as the punt returner, mainly because Williams is more active with the offense while WR Joe Jurevicius rehabilitates a knee injury. Wansley returned his first punt 12 yards after the Falcons' first offensive series. The return helped set up the Bucs' first scoring drive. ``That surprised me,'' said Wansley, who finished with three punt returns for 27 yards. ``[Coach Rich Bisaccia] came to me during the week and said I would probably get some returns, but I didn't know I was going to be starting out like that.''
Another change was Cosey Coleman being replaced at left guard by John Wade. Last week, Tampa Bay's kicking team left seven points on the field. Against Atlanta, the unit contributed seven, including a 24-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica. ``It was important for us to get that monkey off our back,'' Benjamin said. ``We know we're going to be tested throughout the season, so we've got to be strong week in and week out. It was real important to get back on the field, kick a field goal and just move on from last week.''
Michael Pittman led the offense in rushing and receiving Sunday. Pittman combined for 164 yards and one touchdown (20 carries for 82 yards and seven receptions for 82 yards). His 68-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter set a team record for a running back. Trent Dilfer connected with Warrick Dunn, now with the Falcons, for the previous longest touchdown reception by a back (59 yards on Oct. 12, 1997 against Detroit.) Pittman hadn't put up triple- digit numbers since the Super Bowl, when he rushed for 124 yards. He said Sunday's game was special, not just because the Bucs won. In the offseason, Pittman was arrested for the third time in two years for allegedly running his car into one containing his wife Melissa, the couple's 2-year-old son and a babysitter. He faces two felony counts of aggravated assault from the May 31 incident. His trial is scheduled for Jan. 13. Sunday's game provided some perspective for the Bucs' starting tailback. ``The biggest thing is, me and my wife, we are still together,'' he said. ``We're going strong.''
John Lynch took care of the first interception. FS Dwight Smith added two and SLB Ryan Nece collected his first career pick for added insurance. DE Simeon Rice handled the sack. The defense continued two long streaks Sunday. The Bucs have recorded a takeaway in 44 consecutive games and a sack in 63 consecutive games. The combined takeaways and sacks extended the consecutive streak with both to 44, an NFL record. Rice sacked Doug Johnson on the last play of the third quarter. LB Nate Webster added one in the fourth quarter. Just after Webster's sack, a shoving match broke out between Tampa Bay and Atlanta players, which turned into a shouting match between DT Warren Sapp and teammate Ellis Wyms. The two continued to jaw at each other as they walked to the sideline as defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin got between them. ``That's not arguing,'' Sapp said. ``We call this a brotherhood of men. I was just holding him accountable for the same things that he holds me accountable for. He was a little bit across the line and I had to get us all back across the line. Let's get off the field. I'd rather [he] be fighting me or punch me in the face than hit one of them and then we've got to go back to play defense.''
Odds and ends
The penalties were still in double digits (10 for 123 yards) but not nearly as bad as last week, when the Bucs were penalized 17 times for 168 yards. ``We still got a couple out there we've got to clean up,'' Sapp said. ``But we're on the right track.''
The Bucs are 5-0 under Coach Jon Gruden following a loss.
Ken Dilger's one reception for 24 yards gave him 300 for his career. He is one of six active tight ends to accomplish that feat.
The Buccaneers remain the only team that has not lost back-to-back games since the start of the 2002 season. Tampa Bay has followed each of its five losses in that span with a win, four times doing so on the road.