A perfect ending to offensive gem
Let's begin by viewing the Bucs' 27-24 win over the Vikings with an artist's eye. It was Rembrandt football. Masterpiece theater. Exhilarating entertainment. Billy Graham should've stuck around. It was heavenly. Talk about a revival ...
After a Bucs debacle in New Orleans, it was a Sunday in their home tabernacle that lacked for nothing. Except maybe for John Glenn opting for a Tampa touchdown, dropping in to enjoy an out-of-this- world game. There was enormous and heroic deliverance for a Bucs offense that suddenly rocked mighty Minnesota and rolled to touchdowns. Breaking their first-half jinx. Passing, running, blocking and escaping their NFL bondage. It was so far from their 9-3 crash in New Orleans.
A five-star show, no matter who won. But for locals, a happy ending enhanced the uproar. We're all now guessing: How does a Bucs offense, a week beyond a sickening flop against the lowly Saints, create such a 180-degree spin to glory against the quite lethal Vikes? "I could hear the difference," said Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer. "There's a different, special sound when the blocks are especially physical and crisp. It was an attitude by our offense. To dominate. Cutting down errors. When we made mistakes, to not allow it to drag us down."
For the first time in two months of Sundays, a widely demeaned Tampa Bay offensive line was creating cracks through which big Mike Alstott and little Warrick Dunn could dynamically romp. Making 22 first downs. Scoring 27 points. Gaining 378 yards. No turnovers. Beating unbeaten Minnesota. Holy turnaround! "We didn't turn the ball over," said Tony Dungy. "Didn't self- destruct. Didn't kill ourselves with mistakes."
Tampa Bay's coach would even joke, suggesting that his "screaming and yelling" worked wonders. A gentle, understandable jab at media that suggested Dungy be more vocally demanding.
If the coach has dreams, Sunday's offense was the brand of performance a snoozing Dungy might relish. Alstott thundering for 128 yards. Dunn dancing and fleeing for 115.
For the first time since their 1976 franchise birth, the Bucs had two triple-digit runners. It was the first time in the '90s Tampa Bay scored TDs on its first two possessions.
An extraordinary afternoon.
Dilfer was not overburdened with demands. Just as Dungy wishes it could always be. But when the QB was asked, Trent memorably excelled. Twice scrambling away from Minnesota tacklers, turning superb escapes into effective third-down throws. Also, on third and 1, Dilfer succeeded with a naked bootleg. "I felt we would have to win it offensively," he said. "Making big plays on third and even fourth downs. Taking some air out of the Vikings. Keeping their tremendous offense off the field as much as possible. I'm very proud to say I'm a Buc because of the way our guys responded during the past week." Dilfer had an emotional Tuesday meeting with his receivers.
Veteran wideout Bert Emanuel said: "It was time for our quarterback, as well as me, to say something. To work even harder at getting us going. It's clear that Reidel (Anthony) and Jacquez (Green) can make terrific plays."
Three times the Bucs eschewed their kicking game to go for it on fourth down. Twice they succeeded. "It made us feel great, looking to the sideline and not seeing any (placekicker Michael) Husted," said center Tony Mayberry. "We knew the coaches had faith in us."
For a change, faith was merited.
Through the Tampa Bay dressing room, players favorably mentioned the play-calling of coordinator Mike Shula, who was enormously criticized as the Bucs limped through seven insufficient offensive games. "Mike Shula made great moves," Mayberry said. "This time, though, we players came through. Our problem has not been the plays being called; it's been what we did with them."
But, it's fair to ask on this Monday, was that an offensive aberration or the beginning of repeatedly fruitful Sundays?
"This one was fun, but it's of no further use to talk about beating the Vikings," Alstott said. "We've got to do it next week against Tennessee, then the following Sunday in Jacksonville."
Mayberry echoed that theme.
"If this isn't the start of something good," he said, "it will be a huge disappointment. We proved something to ourselves. Outscoring a Minnesota team that can stack up the touchdowns. But if there's no carryover, we won't be doing our job."
Alstott was tired, dirty and smiling. For seven games, the 255- pound runner struggled, along with his offensive brothers.
"Not scoring any touchdowns in the first half until now, that was a major problem," said the third-year pro from Purdue. "My best deal is for us to have leads. To grind the clock. Getting good push from our offensive line. Being able to lean hard into the holes. Maybe even knocking over some defenders for extra yardage. Why hasn't it happened before now? I don't know. If I had the answer, we wouldn't have struggled offensively for seven games. What's important is that we've proved the good stuff can still be there."
Sunday was more than good.
Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1998