Bent and broken
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 15 October 2001

It wasn't enough for the Bucs to tease and torment their fans for just four quarters against the Titans on Sunday. Somehow they managed to make the pain last a little longer by forcing overtime. To Tampa Bay partisans who endured the Bucs' 31-28 loss to theretofore winless Tennessee in overtime, this was submitting to unusual punishment. It was like another droplet of water on the forehead or a second spoonful of castor oil.

Not only did Titans place-kicker Joe Nedney kick a winning, 49-yard field goal 2:38 into the extra period. He did it after the Bucs rallied from two touchdowns down in the fourth quarter, tying the score on a touchdown pass from quarterback Brad Johnson to Dave Moore with 54 seconds left, stopping the Titans' last gasp in regulation and winning the coin toss to get the ball first in overtime. "We've got to find ourselves right now," Warren Sapp said. "Because right now we're just an average ballclub. We've got to find ourselves right now. If 28 ain't enough for this defense, we're in trouble."

For Tony Dungy, it always had been enough. Until Sunday, the Bucs were 15-0 when scoring 28 or more points. But a holding penalty on rookie John Howell on the overtime kickoff return forced the Bucs to start at their own 9-yard line. Brad Johnson, who passed for 287 yards and three touchdowns, misfired three times and the Titans took over at the Tampa Bay 46. After Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair passed for a first down, Nedney, who had missed from 47 yards in the fourth quarter, kicked the winner.

It was the first victory of the season for the Titans (1-3), making the Bucs the perfect remedy for struggling teams (like 0-2 Minnesota two weeks ago). The loss dropped the Bucs to 2-2 and into third in the NFC Central behind Green Bay and Chicago. It also spoiled some good performances by individuals -- nearly all of them on offense.

Johnson, who was worse than 50 percent passing for only the fourth game in his career (24-of-50, 287 yards, 1 interception) tossed three touchdown passes. Keyshawn Johnson caught eight passes for 140 yards, the third highest yardage in a game for his career and most as a Buc. And Warrick Dunn, despite playing with a foot sprain, ran for one touchdown and raced 26 yards with a screen pass for another. "The first quarter of the season is over and I think we're an average football team right now," safety John Lynch said. "But I don't think that's where we're going to be at the end of the year. So we go to the second quarter and we're going to focus on winning one against Pittsburgh."

What made Sunday's loss worse was how Tennessee tried so hard to gift-wrap a victory for Tampa Bay. Two of the Bucs' touchdowns were the result of drives that were sustained when the Titans special teams jumped offside on fourth down, giving the Bucs new life. The first came as Martin Gramatica lined up for a 28-yard field goal in the second quarter, setting up Dunn's touchdown run. The second came in the third quarter when Mark Royals was punting from his own 28. "That's in large part why we made a comeback," Lynch said. "It was a combination of us having determination and them having penalties."

Meanwhile, the defense made the struggling Titans look like the Rams. Tennessee entered the game having converted on 16.7 percent of its third-down situations. On Sunday, the Titans made 8 of 16, including 6 of 8 in the first half. "Right now, third and long is like our nemesis. We've got to find ourselves. This just ain't going to get it done," Sapp said. "It's just killing us. We had the running game pretty much under control, then we let the quarterback get out of the pocket. Now he's running all over the damn place. Once we get one thing solved, here comes two more."

McNair, who was sacked twice, hurt the Bucs by rushing nine times for 54 yards and was as elusive as the Vikings' Daunte Culpepper two weeks ago. "It's nothing they did. We didn't get the job done on third down when we had to," Ronde Barber said. "I think the fourth quarter, we started converting and getting off. But they already had 21 points and I think the damage was already done. (Quarterbacks) are getting out of the pockets. There was a time when we could contain everybody and get good pressure on the quarterback. I mean, that's when we racked up on sacks. Now they turn the corner on us and are making plays in the passing game by running with their feet."

The Titans could have put the game away but had one touchdown called back when receiver Kevin Dyson nudged the pylon with his left foot before making an apparent diving touchdown catch. The play originally was ruled a touchdown but reversed after Dungy had referee Dick Hantak review the play.

Trailing 28-14 with 7:53 left, Brad Johnson engineered touchdown drives of 80 yards and 62 yards, throwing scoring strikes to Jacquez Green and Moore. "We felt like we had them," Sapp said. "It was a situation where if we gave the ball back to our offense, we felt we could get enough points to put ourselves in a position to win. They did it for us. They did it for us. To come down two times in a row against a nice, hard defense. Making some third downs, converting them and doing what they had to do for us to win it."

But for the third time in the past three overtime games for Dungy, the Bucs failed to walk off winners. "We had chances to stop them when we couldn't get them stopped," Dungy said. "They got 31 points and it's hard to win on the road when you give up 31 points."