Sudden appearance of Bucs' offense a great mystery
Maybe some mysteries are supposed to remain unsolved. Like UFOs and the ingredients in Spam and what the Bucs did to Minnesota on Sunday. They didn't just beat the Vikings, they beat them at their own game. No, it was not a hallucination. The Bucs really did score 27 points against what was the only unbeaten team in the NFC. A week earlier, they couldn't score four points against the Saints. Explanation for the 27-24 upset? "I wish I had an answer for that," Tony Dungy said.
Whatever the reason, it made for the most shockingly entertaining game of the season. Whoever figured the Bucs would score 17 points in the first half? They had scored 16 first-half points all season. Heck, they hadn't scored touchdowns on their first two possessions in nine years. When Warrick Dunn found the end zone at 1:14 p.m., you half expected the refs to stop the game and send the ball to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And for some reason, the hits just kept on coming. "It was just a different sound," Trent Dilfer said. "I can't explain it."
He was talking about how a game sounds when an offensive line is pushing people around. That long-lost sound provided the rhythm to Sunday's offensive beat. When there are holes, there is a running game. When there is a running game, there is less pressure on the passing game. When there is less pressure on the passing game, Dilfer doesn't have to put on a disguise the following week when he goes out to buy a gallon of milk. He completed only 11 passes and left the field a hero. That's the way the Buc offense is supposed to work under Mike Shula, Boy Genius.
So people won't have Dilfer to kick around for a few days. Also missing will be Shula, who didn't come out to gloat after the game, much less try to explain what had just happened. "It was pretty much the same offense," Dungy said. "And probably the same ugly plays up the middle that nobody likes."
When the scheme works, ugly is a thing of beauty. Playing keep-away is the only way to beat the Vikes. The locker room reeked of redemption Sunday as players explained what went right. For the first time all season, they drove down early and scored instead of fumbled. When a penalty cost them a score, they scored on the next play. "We didn't make the stupid mistakes," Dunn said.
There were none of the usual drops or interceptions or defensive tackles regularly wrapped around Dilfer. Everybody knew what went right. What nobody seemed able to explain was why. These were the same players running the same plays called by the same coaches that produced that three-point disaster in New Orleans. "It's a tough question to answer," Mike Alstott said.
The standard explanation is the team meeting. The Bucs had one last week with the quarterbacks and receivers. Dilfer said it was no big deal. Dungy said it might have helped everyone relax. Who knows? "It's so funny," Tony Mayberry said. "What is relaxed? Guys are still hyped up and yelling at each other."
Maybe the Bucs were simply overdue to stop self-destructing. No, they were definitely overdue. Just as one bad break and stupid mistake led to another the past few weeks, the good fed on itself Sunday. All we know for sure is a season that was sinking fast is bobbing again. But now that the Buc offense has finally shown what it can do, will it keep doing it? That is a mystery to be revealed in the coming weeks. On Sunday, the Bucs answered every question except why. Whatever the answer, it could not have come at a better time.
David Whitley The Tampa Tribune 2 November 1998