Bouncing Back
Marty Strasen, The Tampa Tribune, published 13 October 2003

The Bucs returned a fourth-quarter interception for a touchdown that gave them 35 points and a three- touchdown lead. Uh-oh. Sound familiar?

When that same scenario played out with five minutes left last Monday night, the Indianapolis Colts went into hurry-up mode, pulling off the fastest 21-point comeback in NFL history and stunning Tampa Bay in overtime. The Washington Redskins ran a different route after Derrick Brooks' touchdown return gave the Bucs a 35-13 cushion today with even more time on the clock. The Redskins did the NFL equivalent of a surrender, putting Rob Johnson in the game to play quarterback. The Bucs smiled. It was that kind of day.

Tampa Bay's 35-13 win at FedEx Field will not rank among the most artistic of the Jon Gruden era. However, it could very well claim a place among the most important. Monday night's meltdown against the Colts left the bruised Bucs with two choices: Allow injuries to affect their approach in a game Washington was more than capable of winning, or bounce back like champions with the personnel available. Was there any doubt which one the Bucs would choose?

Not that it was going to be easy. Redskins coach Steve Spurrier knows how to exploit a defensive weakness, and he did so. At one point in the first half, the Bucs' defensive backfield consisted of Jermaine Phillips (making his first start at safety), Dwight Smith (starting at cornerback for the first time this year), Corey Ivy (filling in at corner for the injured Brian Kelly) and John Howell (subbing temporarily for veteran safety John Lynch). Rod Gardner, Laveranues Coles and Darnerien McCants were finding holes everywhere in the Tampa Bay defense and Patrick Ramsey was getting them the ball. Washington led 13-7 early in the third quarter.

What happened next might be considered a turning point when the Bucs look back on their 2003 season a few months from now. With some of his most reliable weapons on the sideline, Gruden called on the ones he had to make plays. They did, and the Bucs took control. Joe Jurevicius remains out with a knee injury, so Michael Pittman, Keenan McCardell and Keyshawn Johnson made big catch after big catch in the second half. Starting tight end Ken Dilger left the game early against the Redskins, so his unheralded backups - Todd Yoder and rookie Will Heller - combined for three touchdown receptions as the Bucs took command.

Brad Johnson threw four touchdown passes without an interception while stretching his team record for pass attempts without being sacked to an even 150. And any doubts about the Tampa Bay defense were eased by four Simeon Rice sacks, Warren Sapp's first one of the year and key second- half interceptions by Smith and Brooks. The Bucs remain two games behind unbeaten Carolina in the NFC South, and their team health remains a concern entering a game at San Francisco that will not easily be won. But 3-2 has a far better feel than 2-3, especially under the circumstances. For the Bucs, turning those circumstances into a victory has to feel even better.