Game of firsts
Wardell Rouse and Eric Curry made the most significant play of Sunday's Bucs-Vikings game even though they were deactivated and in street clothes. Once Warren Moon's final pass fell incomplete and Tampa Bay's 24-13 upset was official, Rouse and Curry dumped a bucket of Gatorade on Coach Tony Dungy. "It took me by surprise. I thought you only did those [things] when you were in a championship game. But it felt good," said Dungy, who celebrated his first victory as an NFL head coach. We were starting to wonder if we would ever know what this would feel like."
That winning feeling came back courtesy of quarterback Trent Dilfer having enough time to toss a personal-best three touchdown passes, the offense not having a turnover and the defense forcing three turnovers as Tampa Bay won for the first time since upsetting Green Bay in overtime on Dec. 10, 1995.
That the Vikings (5-2) were the first victim of the Bucs (1-5) made the balmy afternoon at Houlihan's Stadium even more special because Dungy was Minnesota's defensive co-ordinator the last four seasons. "It's a great example of your head coach not panicking," defensive co-ordinator Monte Kiffin said. "When you're 0-5 and you've lost some tough games and you're a first-year head coach, he could have changed the offense and the defense, but he didn't. He just kept telling the players, "You gotta believe. You gotta believe.' I'm happy for Tony because he was with the Vikings, but Tony's also such a class guy."
General Manager Rich McKay, who also has taken his share of heat for the team's sad start, said the win took a load off Dungy and Dilfer. "It just builds and builds and gets very hard for him to stay focused on the long term as opposed to winning this week," McKay said. "This win is most important for him of all people because he's going to be a successful coach. It's been tough for him sitting there going 0-5. "We've never really doubted it. We've felt good about where we're heading. But you don't like to be criticised and it starts to build on you a little bit. We all know that the quarterback position is key. Trent had a very nice game. He picked the right guys almost all the time."
Dilfer, who heard some early boos from the crowd of 32,175 before settling down in the 24-point second half, gave credit to the offensive line, which was intact for the first time this season. "That's a heck of a defensive front and they can cause a lot of havoc," said Dilfer, who was sacked once. The lowest-ranked starting quarterback in the league saw his passing rating rise from 35.6 to 50.1 after completing 22 of 35 passes for 218 yards - and no interceptions. "We're 1-5 and it's not like we're Super Bowl champions," Dilfer said. "I did what I was supposed to do."
Offensive co-ordinator Mike Shula said execution was the difference between Sunday and the first five games. He called a lot of play-action passes to attack the Vikings" eight-man fronts and strong pass rush. He also put the win in perspective. "Redemption? I'm just glad we won the game," Shula said. "Just to see the consistency of the execution and to be rewarded by getting the ball in the end zone. This is one game. We have to go to work next week and win another game."
Guard Ian Beckles said no one believed in the Bucs except the people in the locker room before the game. "We knew it was going to happen eventually," Beckles said.
Nick Pugliese The Tampa Tribune October 1996