Points Made
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 8 November 2004

It's still a long shot. That track meet the Bucs won at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday didn't change that. Think about it, though. If they didn't post that 34-31 victory against the Chiefs, then what chance would the Bucs really have of reaching the playoffs?

They would have fallen to 2-6 and four games behind 6-2 Atlanta in the NFC South, so talk of the playoffs would have been pure folly. Now, though, the Bucs are 3-5 with the Falcons up next. And while it's still a sizable hole, it's not inescapable. Jon Gruden has likened the Bucs' situation to the Red Sox being down three games to none in the ALCS, and suddenly there is a Sox- like confidence among them. ``We're trending up,'' cornerback Ronde Barber said of the Bucs, who have won three of their past four and have five games remaining against division rivals.

``We're starting to conquer our situation,'' defensive end Simeon Rice said. ``And it's the offense that's been the catalyst. They're burning right now.''

The Bucs offense burned the Chiefs on Sunday for 418 yards and five touchdowns, including a 78-yard Michael Pittman scoring run that was the longest in team history. Pittman scored two other touchdowns to tie the team record for most rushing TDs in a game. Brian Griese turned in an equally stellar effort, compiling a passer rating of 111.9 by completing 22 of 34 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns.

But with all the offense on the field Sunday, it was the Bucs defense that eventually decided the outcome. After allowing the Chiefs to rack up 24 points and 275 yards in the first half, the Bucs forced two turnovers and limited Kansas City to 184 yards and one score in the second. ``We didn't really change anything scheme-wise,'' safety Dwight Smith said. ``We just got tired of watching them slam-dunk the ball over the goal post and [dance] in the end zone after they scored and started to make some plays.''

Who made the biggest play is difficult to say. Jermaine Phillips picked off a Trent Green pass on a second-and- 14 play from the Bucs' 22 to preserve the Bucs' 34-31 lead with 5:48 to play. Dewayne White, playing out of position at defensive tackle, sacked Green on a fourth- down play with 1:15 remaining to clinch the victory.

Smith had a third-quarter interception, and in the first quarter he chased down receiver Eddie Kennison and forced a fumble at the 11-yard line that was eventually recovered in the end zone and returned to the Bucs 29 by teammate Brian Kelly. ``We have a drill where you chase a guy all the way to the end zone and that's what he did,'' defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said of Smith. ``You never stop on that drill and today he didn't stop.''

Smith began chasing Kennison at midfield, and at first he said his lone objective was to simply stop Kennison from reaching the end zone. As he gained ground, though, Smith said he noticed that Kennison was carrying the ball in a way that would allow Smith to strip it from him. ``I just took my shot at it and it worked out for us,'' said Smith, whose play appeared to epitomize the Bucs' mental approach to the season. ``Dwight never gave up on that play and that's what this team is all about,'' defensive end Greg Spires said. ``We never give up.''

The Bucs are unlikely to give up now. Especially when there are aspects in which their defense is beginning to perform better than it did a year ago. ``When we stopped them at the end there, that was big,'' Kiffin said. ``That's one of the things we didn't do a good enough job of last year.''

It wasn't just the finish that was impressive. From the start Sunday the Bucs made it hard for Kansas City to run the ball, limiting Pro Bowl back Priest Holmes to 59 yards on 16 carries and the Chiefs to 105 yards as a team. In fact, the only area Kiffin expressed disappointment with was the pass defense. The Bucs gave up 354 yards there, including 208 in the first half, which prompted Kiffin to say ``We just didn't play the pass to our standards today.''

The Bucs didn't kick the ball well either, with Martin Gramatica missing a field goal and an extra-point attempt. But as it has since the Bucs changed quarterbacks a month ago, the offense made up for those gaffes. It allowed the Bucs to nearly keep pace with the league's No. 2 scoring offense during the first half and surge ahead in the second. And the fact they did it against one of the league's weaker defenses didn't matter to Gruden. ``I don't want to disrespect what we did on offense today,'' Gruden said. ``We had four good drives today, and I don't care who you're playing against, that's good football.''

The Bucs say they have been playing pretty good football for a while now. Long enough, in fact, to have forgotten about their 0-4 start. ``Yeah, that's in the past; it's like that was a whole other season,'' said Smith, who is among many Bucs suddenly thinking about the postseason. ``If we were going to get realistic about making the playoffs, then we needed to win this game,'' Griese said.

``We've got championship people in that locker room there and champions don't die,'' Gruden said. ``Tiger Woods is coming back. The Red Sox came back. Muhammad Ali got knocked out and he came back. When you're a champion, you can always come back.''