Bucs prove they had something to prove
Chris Harry, The Orlando Sentinel, published 8 November 2004

Kansas City's offense vs. Tampa Bay's defense. That was the prevailing pregame sentiment heading into Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium. Given the Chiefs' track record for explosiveness the past few seasons and the Buccaneers' long-standing tradition of stopping people, it made sense. To almost everybody. "In case people don't know, Jon Gruden has an ego," Dwight Smith said of his coach. "So for everybody to go around and talk about another team's offense and not even mention his ... "

Smith paused, cocking an eye. "I believe he's going to have something to prove."

And Gruden, no doubt, convinced his players they had something to prove, too. The proof came in the form of a 34-31 Tampa Bay victory before a sold-out throng of 65,495. In winning for the third time in four games, the Bucs (3-5) cranked out 418 total yards -- 288 passing, 130 rushing -- with no turnovers before turning to its defense to close the door in the final moments. "We respected Kansas City and what they'd accomplished, but nobody asked what our offense was going to do to their defense," Derrick Brooks said. "They bailed us out. They came out of the tunnel wanting to show everybody they're a good offense. We knew that already, but it wasn't for us to say. They made their statement."

The Chiefs (3-5), who had 101 points and 1,130 yards combined in victories over Atlanta and Indianapolis the past two weeks, finished with 459 yards Sunday. But wide receiver Eddie Kennison fumbled on the goal line after being chased down by Smith in the first half and quarterback Trent Green (369 yards) threw two second-half interceptions. "We made mistakes," Kansas City Coach Dick Vermeil said. "They didn't."

When the Chiefs had one final shot, the Bucs' defense staved off a potential game-tying -- or -winning -- threat with sacks by cornerback Ronde Barber and tackle Dewayne White, the latter on fourth-and-16 from KC's 49 with 1:09 left. "We stopped them at the end. There were times last year, you'll recall, that we didn't do that," said defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, referencing the six blown fourth-quarter leads from 2003. "I'm proud of these guys."

There's a lot to be proud of, especially following a dreadful 0-4 start in which the Bucs' offense scored just three touchdowns. They had three by halftime Sunday. Credit Brian Griese, who has restored life to the offense since taking over the No. 1 job a month ago. Against the Chiefs, he was 22-of-34 for 296 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Michael Pittman carried 15 times for 128 yards and three touchdowns, including a 78-yard third-quarter blast that is the longest run in the franchise's 29-season history. "Gruden gave us different formations, moving guys around," Chiefs safety Jerome Woods said. "A couple of times out there, I can honestly say we were lost."

Pittman's output easily bested that of Kansas City's Priest Holmes, who entered as the league's leader in rushing and touchdowns but exited in the third quarter with a bruised knee and only 59 yards. He did not return. Neither did the Chiefs' offense, which was held to one score after halftime, with Smith and fellow safety Jermaine Phillips coming up with huge interceptions in Tampa Bay territory. "I told 'Pitt' at the beginning of the week, 'Man, forget Priest Holmes!' So we just went out and did our thing," said fullback Jameel Cook, who caught an 8-yard touchdown pass and paved the way for Pittman's second consecutive 100-yard game. "It was time to put our tailback on the map, too."

That was kind of the theme for the entire Tampa Bay offense. "We kept hearing that we weren't the Indianapolis Colts and we don't have a Peyton Manning," offensive tackle Derrick Deese said. "It was kind of insulting. We took it personally."

Then they took it to the Chiefs.