Stats may fool you: Bucs' defense did a number on Chicago
Michelle Kaufman, The St.Petersburg Times, published 9 October 1989

Before you finish off your corn flakes and coffee this morning, the members of Tampa Bay's defense would like a few moments of your time. They would appreciate it if you read between the lines of Sunday's 42-35 Buccaneer victory over Chicago. Sure, the Bucs gave up 35 points. Sure, the Bears had 365 yards of total offense.

But the truth is, the defense played pretty darn well through three quarters. And the philosophy in the fourth quarter, which saw two Bears touchdowns, was to play loose enough to avoid a quick score. If you need proof, listen to this: “They're good,” said Bears running back Neal Anderson. “We faced some good defenses this year - Philadelphia, Minnesota, Chicago - and the Bucs are just as good.”

Tampa Bay's defense stopped the Bears cold at the start Sunday. Chicago's first five possessions went like this: punt, punt, fumble, interception, punt. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's offense was given good field position and responded with 21 points in 16 minutes. Even Chicago's first touchdown could hardly be blamed on Tampa Bay's defense. An interception by Chicago linebacker Jim Morrissey gave the Bears possession on the Buccaneer 27, which eventually set up Anderson's 5-yard scoring run.

The key to Tampa Bay's defensive effort on Sunday was third-down plays. Chicago converted only four of 13 attempts, including three in the final quarter. “That's the big difference. Anytime you hold a team to less than 50 percent on third down (conversions), you're doing pretty good,” said Bucs nose tackle Curt Jarvis. “Last year, we were stopping the Bears on first and second down and they were beating us on third. We turned it around.”

The biggest plays on defense were delivered by some familiar people. Kevin Murphy got his team-leading sixth sack and, in the process, forced a fumble that was recovered by Rueben Davis. Mark Robinson got his fourth interception of the year, which ties him for the team high with Harry Hamilton. Hamilton did his part by recovering another fumble. Two of the three turnovers led to Buccaneer touchdowns. “We made some big plays by making the right reads,” Robinson said. “We were in position for those big plays.”

When the defense did falter, it was almost by design. Chicago went to a four-receiver offense and was looking for big scoring plays once the Bucs went ahead 42-21. So Tampa Bay, in turn, brought in six defensive backs with the idea of giving up medium-range passes but not the bombs. Chicago scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes with that plan in effect. “You have to give them certain things at that point in the game,” Robinson said. “But I hate to see us finish like that.”

Robinson wasn't the only one. “I was getting mad at the end. The victory isn't as sweet with them scoring more points,” said linebacker Ervin Randle. “People would look at the stats and say the defense didn't play very well.”

It's okay, Ervin. If they've read this far, they'll know better.