Defense does number on Giants: 135 yards
You always wonder. When there is funk and flunk with Tampa Bay's offense, does it trigger rage and disgust among Bucs defensive guys? Don't we all figure it happens? Nobody ever admits it. "We're playing real hard, doing pretty well," nose tackle Brad Culpepper said, assessing Bucs defensive work. "No, we don't get down on our offense, although some teams do."

Giants a possibility? Sunday's opponents were so alike. Deep in defense. Suspect on offense. Surely, from either the Bucs or Giants, some defensive fellow wound up fuming inside. Probably more than one. Perhaps with ample reason. But, with admirable discretion, nobody vented in public.

Trent Dilfer was mediocre, but Danny Kanell of the Giants was worse. Tampa Bay won because its defense made higher impact plays. Like stealing three of Kanell's throws, one for a touchdown. Eventually, the Bucs offense did make a few first downs, chewed some clock and even scored a touchdown. Bucs were relieved; smiling. A win is a win is a win.

For patrons who might've departed Raymond James Stadium with less than a well-fed feeling about the Bucs offense, they should listen up. Just maybe, by pointing ears to the north, we can all hear far louder wails and curses from New York, where Giants fans surely were appalled. The Bucs won because their defense was a manhandler. The Giants were outrun and outpassed. The Bucs held New York to 135 net yards, third-finest total in a 23-season Tampa Bay history forever dominated by defense. The Giants gained a limp 2.7 yards per offensive play. On third downs, New York's offense succeeded at an odious 17 percent (2- for-12).

A win is a win is Imagine the outrage in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut because, in the final minute of a 17-point loss, Giants coach Jim Fassel opted to punt. A rotten case of total surrender. Nice message to his struggling team. Fassel was honored as NFC Coach of the Year in 1997. How? With such a white-flag mentality. The Bucs deserved to win.

Biggest play of all came in the opening 94 seconds. Kanell, while being flattened by Culpepper, launched a misguided missile. Charles Mincy intercepted and returned 22 yards to score. Remarkably, for a continually renowned Tampa Bay defense, it was the first D touchdown in Tony Dungy's 39 games as head coach. "Long time in coming," Dungy said. Adding hopefully that "they usually tend to come in bunches." For a long, long time Sunday, it was the Bucs' only touchdown. "Right there, we had a feeling it was going to be a good defensive afternoon," said Tampa Bay safety John Lynch, who made 13 tackles, including nine solos. "We were relentless. We knew the Giants had an offensive style that would bring running plays my way."

Due to Bucs defensive strangulation, the Dungy corps continues breathing as an NFL playoff chaser. "You don't often hear Tony say we're in a must game," Culpepper said, "but the coach put it on us this week. We would have fallen into a deep, deep hole if our record had come up 1-4 instead of 2-3."

Before kickoff, the Bucs and Giants had precisely the same game plan. Identical goals. I'm sure of it. They're so alike. Heavy in defense, light in offense. "We couldn't let New York get going with its running game," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "That, plus making the fewer mistakes." Culpepper agreed. "Once we stopped their run," he said, "it became a lot easier to handle the passing game."

New York had to be after the same stuff. Aiming to keep harnesses on Bucs runners Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. Knowing that a stonewalled Tampa Bay ground game might well make life miserable if not impossible for quarterback Dilfer. In the end, all that counts is W or L. Bucs earned a desperately needed win. Their existence will now be much more comfortable for the ensuing 13 days. Maybe, by the time the winless Carolina Panthers show up as the Ray-J enemy on Oct. 18, there will be something that uplifts Tampa Bay's offensive propensities. Defense hopes so. You know it does.

Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1998