Falcons Had Nowhere To Run From The Start
The Tampa Tribune, published 22 September 2003

Warren Sapp, touchdown maker, zoomed off the artificial turf of the Georgia Dome, his wingspan at full extension, banking left and then right, like some giant cargo carrier cruising under several hundred visiting Bucs fans who had gathered above the tunnel to their team's locker room. A few minutes earlier, Jon Gruden had made a similar, albeit slightly less exaggerated, exit, leaving the field with two raised fists thrust high into the air as faint chants of ``Tampa ... Bay! Tampa ... Bay!'' wafted through the quickly emptying arena.

It was a good day to celebrate being the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The reigning Super Bowl champions could not have bounced back from last week's loss with any more resiliency short of coming fully equipped with rubber bumpers. The Bucs didn't just beat the Atlanta Falcons. They beat up their divisional rivals. ``To win like we did today is something that champions do,'' safety John Lynch said.

So what else did the 31-10 victory that pushed the Bucs to 2-1 say about their early-season progress? That's a good question. It would be a whole lot easier to be impressed by the Bucs' rout had the Falcons not looked so very much like a scoop of ice cream colliding with hot apple pie. Those three knuckleheads who thought the MacDill Air Force Base guard station was an expressway toll booth came with a better game plan than the Falcons. Atlanta couldn't run and it was really sorry when it tried to pass. In Hindsight ... ``We didn't have many choices,'' Falcons coach Dan Reeves said.

After seeing Carolina's rushing success last week against the Bucs, Atlanta committed early to the run and barely managed to crawl. Nineteen rushing attempts netted 29 yards. ``When we lined up the first play of the game,'' Sapp said, ``they were in Deuce K [two tight ends, two running backs, one receiver]. It was like, `Let's put our big pads on. They're going to try to run over us.' We took it kind of personal. We went about it in our business- like way. Everybody in our gaps. Once we got the running game under control and got the lead, we can rush and cover with anybody.''

Which goes a long way toward explaining Atlanta's 31 pass attempts that produced four interceptions and just 127 yards. When feathers were finished flying, the Falcons finished the day with 136 yards of offense. The Bucs, meanwhile, fashioned a 316-yard offensive performance that added insult to a butt-kicking. Not only did the Bucs, averaging just 2.8 yards per rush going into the game, run for 132 yards - getting 82 from Michael Pittman on 20 carries and two touchdowns by Mike Alstott - they also continued to pass. There was a 68-yard touchdown pass from Brad Johnson to Pittman, and a 6-yard scoring pass from Johnson to Sapp, making a cameo appearance along with Anthony McFarland, when both defensive tackles lined up as tight ends. ``We were in our heavy personnel,'' Gruden said. ``We call that Rolex [formation] because McFarland and Sapp have a lot of Rolex watches. It just adds to the legacy of Warren Sapp.''

All of which left the Falcons looking very much like Birds of Pray: God, please, just get this over with. ``What we should all do is go home, don't go out partying and stuff like that, and take a long look in the mirror and see if we really want to do this,'' Falcons nose tackle Ed Jasper said.

That's how bad the Bucs did it to them on Sunday. A team can lose a game it shouldn't and let the defeat ruin a season. Or it can use the defeat as a wake-up call that sends it soaring. By all early accounts, the Bucs have become a team that thrives on a challenge to its pride. ``Today, for the first time, we went out there as a team and had fun,'' Derrick Brooks said. ``Had fun as a `we' team - not offense, defense or special teams - but together as a team. This week in practice we had fun. Today for the first time this year we had fun in a game and that was missing so far this year.''

That's what happens to sharks when there is blood in the water. ``We got after them with our run defense,'' Ronde Barber said. ``We stopped the run and put them in position where they had to drop back and throw the ball. There comes a point where a lot of pressure creates turnovers and the game starts going the way we want it to go. That's pretty much how it was today. We kind of had a feeling that they were not going to do anything on us from the middle of the first quarter.''

What took them so long?