Of all the plays the Bucs' defense made Sunday, one in particular stood out. When FS Dexter Jackson flattened Atlanta TE Brian Kozlowski as backup QB Doug Johnson tried to connect with him for a big gain, the tide seemed to turn in Tampa Bay's favor. Bucs CB Dwight Smith picked off the pass after the collision, setting up Martin Gramatica's 22-yard field goal. ``Unbelievable,'' DT Warren Sapp said of the hit. ``It's 13-6 if they get a first down. They're going to make this a game. I'm surprised we even picked it. I was still looking at that hit.''
Jackson said initially he was looking to make an interception. But Johnson's ball died quickly and it became a footrace between him and Kozlowski. ``It was a turnover-causing impact,'' Jackson said. ``Whenever you have a big hit that causes turnovers, it's always great. We needed it at the time. We were struggling. It was a catfight until that moment.''
It's become a habit really. In need of a touchdown, the Bucs know who their go-to guy is - and it isn't an offensive player. ``Whenever we need a score, Derrick [Brooks] just steps right up,'' CB Ronde Barber said. Brooks, who recorded his third interception return for a touchdown Sunday, isn't the only linebacker scoring. MLB Shelton Quarles returned a pick 25 yards for a touchdown against Cincinnati last week. Brooks became the 18th player with three interception returns for a touchdown in one season. The NFL record is four, held by Ken Houston (Houston, 1971), Jim Kearney (Kansas City, 1972) and Eric Allen (Philadelphia, 1993). ``It'd be easy to say it's luck and he's in the right place at the right time, but he's just that type of player,'' linebackers coach Joe Barry said. ``I think we're seeing Derrick Brooks at his best. ... He's on it right now. He's on his game right now.'' Barry is not just proud of Brooks' effort. He's proud of the entire group's performance this season. ``We're healthy, we're playing good and we're playing fast,'' he said. ``We've just got to keep it going. We're on it right now and our goal is to keep playing the way we've been playing.''
All week long, Coach Jon Gruden constantly reminded players of a date in 1995. It was Oct. 1 and the Bucs had defeated the Carolina Panthers 20-13 in Charlotte, N.C. It was the last time the Bucs had won a road game in October - until Sunday. ``It kind of stuck with us,'' said Sapp, who along with Brooks and SS John Lynch are the only remaining players from the '95 team. ``It was something for us to chew on all week long. It was just a little more gas on the fire.''
Sunday's victory also was the Bucs' third consecutive road victory. Tampa Bay has never won four consecutive road games. The next time they travel is Oct. 20 to Philadelphia. Gruden said every Tampa Bay employee who has been with the team since 1995 will get a game ball, marking the significance of the win in Atlanta. ``We have to win on the road,'' Gruden said. ``It's not about where you line up, you know, 3-1 was a good start, it's about where you wind up. In order to go where you want to go, you've got to win and you've got win in every month. This is a good start to the quarter.''
Lynch suffered a sprained right knee in the fourth quarter. He tried to return, but feared he would hurt the team rather than help it. Backup S John Howell replaced Lynch, who is unsure of his status this week. He will be re-evaluated today. ``We'll see,'' Lynch said. ``I've played through these before. We'll find out how serious it is, but I think I'll find a way to get out there.'' ``We are concerned any time John Lynch shows up on the injury report,'' Gruden said. NT Anthony McFarland sprained his left foot in the first quarter. He was replaced by Chartric Darby and Greg Spires. McFarland returned later in the second quarter. Spires was shaken up late in the fourth quarter on the play when Sapp intercepted Johnson's pass and pitched it to Brooks for a touchdown. FB Mike Alstott sustained a right ankle sprain. Atlanta QB Michael Vick left the game in the third quarter after he fell hard on his right shoulder after Bucs DE Simeon Rice sacked him. Vick did not return after suffering a shoulder sprain and was replaced by Johnson, who played quarterback at the University of Florida.
ODDS AND ENDS
The Bucs had four sacks Sunday, keeping their NFL- record streak alive. Tampa Bay has recorded at least one sack in 49 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the league.
Former Bucs RB Warrick Dunn was on the cover of the game day program. Dunn finished with nine carries for 14 yards and two receptions for 13 yards. ``Once the ball was in play, he was just another running back we had to take down,'' Derrick Brooks said.
Notes: Keyshawn Johnsonís 76-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was the longest play of Johnsonís career. It stands as the ninth-longest offensive touchdown in franchise history and the Bucsí longest play from scrimmage since November 15, 1998, when Trent Dilfer hit Reidel Anthony on a 79-yard pass.
On a third-and-nine play at the end of Atlantaís first possession, the Bucs lined up in a very unusual defensive set. DE Ellis Wyms replaced LB Alshermond Singleton and the Bucs used five down linemen. In addition, S Dexter Jackson came up to the line of scrimmage to play man coverage on a Falcon receiver instead of nickel back Dwight Smith, and S John Lynch was the only deep safety.
The Bucs tried a little special-teams trickery in the first quarter using P Tom Tupa, a former starting quarterback in the NFL. Tupa lined up in punt formation, then came up under center as if he was going to take a snap and go for it on fourth down. However, it was just a ploy to try to get the Falcons to jump offside. The Falcons didnít bite on the hard count and Tampa Bay took a five-yard delay-of-game penalty before actually punting.
The Tampa Tribune October 2002