Dunn finds perfect situation in all phases of Bucs offense
Whether catching a touchdown or getting 11 carries, he leads balanced attack vs. Vikings. After turning in a complete game in the Bucs' 41-13 romp over the Minnesota Vikings, Warrick Dunn had a simple message for anyone who thinks he's just a situational player. "I block big guys," Dunn said. "I'm not going to try to run somebody over, but I think I can carry it. I protect myself when I run the football. I'm not taking any unnecessary hits. What more do I need to do? It's just a matter of getting the ball every down. I don't want to have to run the ball 30 times, but I think I'm a complete back."

Dunn rushed for 89 yards on 11 carries and caught a 23-yard touchdown against the Vikings. For an offense that has been stagnant and a running game that has been dormant, Dunn's contributions were as big as any on the Bucs offense Sunday. Some have questioned if Dunn can be an all-purpose back, but Sunday he had all the answers. Receiver Keyshawn Johnson said he never stopped believing Dunn can get it done. "He can play to me," said Johnson, who met with Bucs quarterback Shaun King last week and told him to get the ball to him and Dunn. "I like some of the things he does. He's so quick. That's who he is. I've liked him since he was at Florida State."

In the first half, Tampa Bay rushed the ball only four times, but Dunn's carries of 10 and 36 yards hurt the Vikings when they tried to drop back in pass coverage and cool off a sharp effort by King, who loosened the Minnesota defense by completing 5-of-7 for 58 yards in the first quarter. Dunn aided King with a 23-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. The Vikings suffered a coverage breakdown and left Dunn alone on a circle route. "All week at practice, I always had to catch that one over a defender. Today, I was just wide open," Dunn said.

The Minnesota defense was missing a beat in varying coverages, but the Bucs offense was in tune. "Everybody was feeling it," offensive tackle Jerry Wunsch said. "We kind of got an identity and confidence in ourselves: What you give us, we're going to take. Now we have a confidence to work with. When they decided they were going to start taking away the pass, we ran the ball. That's what we've been doing the whole time. It's the rhythm. The rhythm of the game, the rhythm of us, the rhythm of the offense. When we're on rhythm, and we're doing everything right, we're going to be really hard to stop."

Few players were more difficult to handle than Dunn, who continued his assault in the second half with nine carries for 53 yards. If Dunn did not have to leave the game in the third quarter because of cramps, he likely would have surpassed 100 yards, a milestone he hasn't broken since November 1998. "It's good to get back into a groove, to get back to what I've been doing, making plays, being involved and having fun," Dunn said. "I think this year I've tried to have fun. The last few games, I played okay, but today everybody played well and we complemented each other."

Dunn wasn't alone in sparking the running attack. Mike Alstott got in the flow by doing what he does best: closing out the victory. He got 54 of his 56 yards in the final quarter on eight carries. Alstott touched the ball only once in the first half, but he said he had no complaints about the way he was used in the game. "Whatever is working," Alstott said. "They challenged us to pass the ball and they didn't feel we could do it, and we set up the run with the pass. A lot of teams say we set up the pass with the run. They play a lot of coverages designed to stop our running game, so we passed the ball."

For one day, the team appeared to find a proper balance between run and pass, and Alstott and Dunn. Can the success continue? "Time will tell," Dunn said. "The thing is, I think guys see right now, we have the ability and if we come out and play hard each week, we can win out."

Said Wunsch: "The key to it all is keeping it and carrying it over to Atlanta. We can't just leave it right here at Raymond James Stadium. We have to take it with us."

Ernest Hooper, The St.Petersburg Times 2000