On final two drives, Bucs run out of gas
Trent Dilfer knew immediately the football was underthrown. As his fourth-down pass came up short, so did the Bucs.
Trailing 21-14 with two minutes left, Dilfer's fourth-and-1 pass to Warrick Dunn was intercepted by linebacker Corey Miller at the Minnesota 10.
It would not be the Bucs' last chance at a game-tying touchdown, but it certainly was their best.
Dilfer was hurried and hit on the play by linebacker Ed McDaniel, who came on a delayed blitz.
Fullback Mike Alstott did not see that McDaniel was blitzing and went to help left tackle Paul Gruber on Vikings defensive lineman John Randle, leaving Dilfer with no protection.
"Mike went to help on Paul's guy, to help chip on him. Then his guy came (on a blitz)," Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "He missed the protection. Trent couldn't set his feet and throw."
Dilfer took responsibility for not hitting Dunn for a touchdown pass.
"We're on the sideline and they were asking me what I wanted," Dilfer said. "I said, 'I'll be real honest with you. It's Mike's call and it's my job to make it work.' He called the best play we had in our playbook in that situation. We had Warrick Dunn matched up on 55. You won't get a much better matchup. The ball is underthrown. You could say, 'Well, I got hit.' It doesn't matter. I have to get that throw out there.
There was a similar play called a couple years ago at Green Bay when we were trying to make a comeback and I underthrew it there and I underthrew this one. One of these days they're going to call that play, I'm going to hit it and we're going to win."
The Bucs had worked on that play all week in practice and - more often than not - Dilfer hit Dunn in stride. Had the Vikings elected not to play man coverage on Dunn, Dilfer would've tried to hit receiver Karl Williams on a slant. It was Miller's first interception since Sept. 18, 1994, when he played for the New York Giants.
The Bucs would have another chance. Their defense forced the Vikings to punt and the Bucs took over at their 35 with one timeout and 1:24 remaining.
Five completions moved the Bucs to the Minnesota 18. But Dilfer's passes to Williams and McDonald in the end zone were knocked away.
The Bucs should've had more time to complete the comeback. But guard Jorge Diaz was called for a false start as Dilfer attempted to spike the ball to stop the clock. Because the infraction occurred with under 1 minute remaining in the game, 10 seconds were taken off the clock, leaving the Bucs 33 seconds.
On the next play, Diaz was penalized for holding. "The biggest thing is the time," Dilfer said. "We started with 1:24 I believe. The next (time) I look at the clock and there's 30- some seconds. When you run off that time because of penalties, it's tough. Their defensive linemen are trying to get us to jump offside, and it worked. Obviously, we got it down and got some chances, but it would've been nice to have three or four more plays."
As it was, the end zone was full of Vikings players as the field grew shorter. "DBs, secondary coaches, everybody was back there," Anthony said. "It's a tough situation to put anyone in on offense. You're trying to get open within that 25-yard range and you've got eight or nine guys standing on the goal line where you're trying to get at. If you catch it short, you're definitely not going to get in there. So, you pretty much have to throw it up in the end zone and pray somebody makes a great catch."
Those prayers weren't answered, although Dilfer believed they would be.
"We really believed it. I had no doubt we were going to score," said Dilfer. "Our perception is so much different than everybody else's. We know we can make big plays in the passing game. We got put in a situation and we made some plays. But the bottom line is, we didn't make enough plays."
Rick Stroud , The St.Petersburg Times 1999