Homespun win
It is their dome away from home. Perhaps sensing it's time to start making a move, the Buccaneers took ownership of the Georgia Dome on Sunday. Everywhere you looked Sunday during Tampa Bay's 27-14 victory over the Falcons, there were signs it never felt more comfortable during a stay in another NFL city. Keyshawn Johnson hung out all day in the end zone, catching a pair of touchdown passes.

The Bucs defense pocketed a few souvenirs, intercepting four passes - two by cornerback Donnie Abraham. It recorded four sacks, even evicting Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler with a concussion in the second quarter. And special teams blocked a punt to set up one touchdown and pulled off a punt fake that turned fans of the Dirty Birds into boo birds. All that was missing was a pirate ship. At least a third of the announced crowd of 61,725 wore red and pewter. "We took Raymond James (Stadium) and brought it north a couple miles," Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "They were looking at it like, wait a minute! This is our house! But it wasn't today. We took it over early and often and we kept it going for four quarters and got us a win we had to have."

The modest two-game winning streak improved the Bucs to 5-4 and moved them into a second-place tie in the NFC Central with the Detroit Lions. More importantly, it was the kind of complete-team victory that the Bucs lacked most of the first half of the season. "It's two weeks in a row where we really had effort and production from all three phases of our team - special teams, offense and defense," coach Tony Dungy said. "And that's what you like to see. Going on the road is tough, although this one felt like a semi-home game. But still, when you go into someone else's house, you've got to be ready."

The Bucs were. Their first two touchdowns Sunday were set up by Abraham's first interception and a blocked punt by defensive end John McLaughlin. Shaun King, who struggled for the first three quarters Sunday, nonetheless threw three touchdowns. At one point in the fourth quarter, punter Mark Royals - who completed a 36-yard pass to free safety Damien Robinson - had one less passing yard than King.

The reigning NFL offensive player of the week struggled to complete 11-of-25 for 110 yards, plus he was intercepted in the end zone. The Bucs were 4-for-14 in third-down conversions. "(The Falcons defense) makes it difficult," Dungy said. "He had one bad play where we throw an interception and we take points off the board. And that was really a tough thing. Other than that, I thought he really handled things well. He got the ball to the right guys and made the big plays when we needed them. We knew it was going to be a tough day offensively in terms of being consistent because they bring a lot of blitzes, they come after you, they have two good cover guys. So we knew we'd get some big plays eventually, but we knew it was going to be tough sledding. Our defense put us in a position to score early, special teams did and we had a little cushion to work with."

Chandler was knocked out early in the second quarter when he was sacked by defensive end Steve White and had his helmet pried from his head by a blow from Sapp. Ever the gracious guest, Sapp had little empathy for Chandler, who was taken to Piedmont Hospital as a precaution. "Steve had him wrapped up and he wasn't down yet," Sapp said. "I just came in to finish him off. Unfortunately, he got a concussion. But that's the risk you take if you drop back and pass against this front four we have. You never want to see a guy have to leave the game with an injury. But him out of the ballgame was going to better our chances of winning the game."

Former Florida State quarterback Danny Kanell did an admirable job in relief, completing 26 of 46 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns. He got the Falcons to within a touchdown by marching Atlanta 87 yards in 13 plays to start the second half, capped by a 19- yard pass to Terance Mathis. But Tampa Bay scored the next 13 points. "We did some crazy things, they came out and scored a touchdown," Sapp said. "We went to the sidelines and took our beating like a man, came back on the field and had to get it done."

Aside from the touchdown to start the second half and one with three seconds left, the Bucs defense was as intimidating as ever. The game featured violent collisions - two involving linebacker Derrick Brooks, who lost his helmet after a hit on Jamal Anderson. Rookie linebacker Nate Webster had a couple other licks on the Pro Bowl running back, who was held to 59 yards on 15 carries.

"I think it says a lot about the mind-set we came in here with today. We were all business," safety John Lynch said. "I think everybody knows we put ourselves in a hole and we've got to come out fighting. That was our mind-set. We knew how important this game was and we really came in with the attitude that it was going to be a tough game. It was. But I think when you hit a team that much, it pays great dividends, especially in the second half."

The Falcons never knew what hit them. They might have been looking for a team bus to take them to an airport after the game because they felt like visitors in their own dome. "We've been playing on the road all year, basically," Mathis, the Falcons receiver, said.

"I almost felt bad," Lynch said. "Because I've been on the other side where the Packers used to come down and get the 'Go Pack Go' chant going late in the game and it's not any fun."

Rick Stroud , The St.Petersburg Times 2000