Third quarter, third down haunt Bucs
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense paints itself into a corner, it doesn't do it by the numbers. Taking a look at the stat sheet in the 26-20 loss to the Vikings, the Bucs must have wondered who won this game anyway?

Surely it was the team that sacked the quarterback five times, knocked the starter out of the game, intercepted him once and turned in a critical goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. Nope. The Bucs managed to accomplish all that but forgot the purpose of the afternoon: win the football game. Instead, the Bucs wound up yielding 319 yards of total offense, 20 first downs and 20 straight points in the second half.

"The only thing is we didn't make big plays on third down that we should've made," said Bucs defensive end Keith McCants. "We had a few breakdowns that hurt us. This may be a blessing in disguise. We didn't win, but we fought it to the end. It lets everybody know we're not a quitting team. We're not going to give up. The turning point of the game is when we couldn't make the big plays on third down. Those are big-play downs. You've got to make them on third-and-long."

Actually, the Vikings were just 5-of-17 in third-down conversions, but they went 2-for-3 on fourth down and managed to hold the ball for 35:34. "The defense looked tired," said Bucs coach Sam Wyche. "They said they weren't. They said they were okay. But, frankly, in the second half, we looked like a team that was tired."

But before Tampa Bay's defense wore out, it wore a path to the quarterback. Rookie Santana Dotson, who entered the game as the NFL's sack leader with four, recorded 1 1/2 sacks to set a Bucs rookie record. Even Broderick Thomas, who had gone sackless in the first two games, responded with a 2 1/2-sack, 12-tackle performance. "I'm happy about it, but that wasn't any of my personal sights," Dotson said of the rookie record set by Chris Washington in 1984. "I think my goal is to try and get two a game, and I left a half of one out there today. If I don't get two sacks on the way to our team winning, it's not enough for me.

However, Dotson was credited with knocking out his second starting quarterback in three games. He did the trick Sunday by whacking Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon in the first quarter on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Cris Carter. Gannon lasted another series before leaving the game with a bruised hand. "It was a good shot," Dotson said. "I was just coming hard. Every week is a challenge for me. These are some of the better offensive linemen in the division, so it was a real challenge for myself and (Mark) Wheeler to get going early. We were putting good pressure on them. They were just making plays. I think the third quarter was really their quarter. We came out to shut them down and ensure a victory."

McCants said the defense got a little shellshocked after allowing some key third-down conversions. "I think the defense became more cautious instead of teeing off, and if you make a mistake, at least make it full speed," McCants said. "We didn't do that."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1992