Identity Is Starting To Build After Latest Convincing Win
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 24 September 2007

Why, exactly, were they picked for last?

These past two weeks might have experts scratching their heads. These past two weeks have the Bucs thinking they've just scratched the surface. "Anything can happen," Earnest Graham said.

Graham ought to know. A mere preseason star until Sunday, Graham scored his first two NFL touchdowns to help seal a 24-3 victory over St. Louis. But if Graham didn't make underdog lovers smile, he had an army back of him. The march is two wins long and heading to Charlotte. The Bucs started 0-3 last year. Get the idea?

This bandwagon doesn't even have wheels yet, but for the second consecutive week, the Bucs were, well, convincing. That gang-tackling defense was everywhere whenever it needed to be, shutting down another potent offense. That Bucs offense moved again. Last week it was by air.

This time, the ground shook. "Carolina next Sunday," Chris Hovan said. "Division game. Rival. Heated rival. I'm getting goose bumps just thinking about it."

Feel them yet, Bucs fans? Caution is your safest bet with upcoming games at Carolina and DungyLand, but the Bucs have done some great work these past two weeks and 2-1 is about as good a place as they can be. And this just in: They can beat the Panthers.

Absolutely. Jeff Garcia, while excited, also chose caution, during Sunday's game, when he was a model of patience and efficiency, as well as after it. "I think we're very capable on being a very solid football team," he said.

By the way, Chris Simms had seven interceptions and no spleen after three games last season. Garcia has yet to throw a pick. You tell us if that matters. Last week against New Orleans, big plays ruled. It was Garcia to Galloway. Not so Sunday. Not that it mattered. Garcia picked his spots, chose his moments. The Bucs crept to a 3-0 lead in the heavy rain just before halftime.

They took a 10-0 lead to start the second half. That was key. Then, behind the offensive line, they grinded until the Rams were a fine dust, until there were 182 rushing yards by committee - Cadillac Williams, Michael Pittman and Graham. Caddy scored the first touchdown, but when he slipped (fumbled) there was Pittman, or later Graham, who ran for 75 yards and scored from 8 and 28 yards out. "We really put the hammer to the nail," Garcia said.

The defense had a hammer, too. The Swarm is back. You know, the Bucs' defensive swarm, the kind that used to win games and titles.

Rams running back Steven Jackson is as strong and as good as they come, and while he made 115 yards on 30 carries, it was noteworthy that he was hardly ever tackled by one Buc. It was like that against New Orleans, too. "Not one guy to the ball, but two, three, four, even 11," Hovan said. "That's starting to build back our mark, our identity," Derrick Brooks said.

Why the Rams didn't take more (any?) shots downfield remains a mystery. But the Bucs D possessed a bend-but-not-break air. St. Louis yardage got scarce inside the 20. That sounds awfully Kiffinish to us.

When plays needed to be made, they were, in particular the interception by cornerback Phillip Buchanon in the end zone. Jermaine Phillips and that man Barrett Ruud (11 more tackles) also made grabs. Buchanon was asked why the Rams didn't go downfield more. "I just work here," he said.

Good enough. Right now, the Bucs are working with each other, for each other, and it's all working. We have no idea what the mood will be in two weeks as they deplane from Indianapolis. But that's then. Carolina is on their minds. And winning isn't some dream anymore.