Defense Gets A Boost, For A Change
Bucs defenders have been talking up the potential of Jon Gruden's attack, suggesting the onus inevitably will shift to the offense to win a game or two. On Redemption Sunday, a debt was paid and another victim dispatched. The NFL's No. 1 defense yielded 393 yards, but the Bucs improved to 7-2 before the bye week with a 38-24 triumph against the Vikings - their favorite Raymond James Stadium patsies. Although Minnesota averaged seven yards a snap and rolled up 22 first downs, Tampa Bay bolted to a 24-0 advantage and maintained an aggressive stance behind Brad Johnson's five touchdown passes. ``Our offense stepped up big today,'' said Derrick Brooks, who tied cornerback Ronde Barber with eight tackles. ``And I'm still ticked off because our defense didn't play better.''
Tampa Bay's defense had allowed only six touchdowns in eight games before the Vikings found the end zone three times.
Daunte Culpepper had five completions of at least 20 yards and Michael Bennett stunned the crowd - and a few defensive assistants - by running 85 yards for a score midway the second quarter. ``The offense bailed us out,'' free safety Dexter Jackson said. ``Hey, Jon Gruden's an offensive guy and once we start clicking, look out. Our offense took a big step forward today.''
In the midst of a mediocre performance, the defense registered a key play late in the third quarter. The Vikings had closed within 31-17 and promptly recovered an onside kick at midfield. On the next snap, pressure from Simeon Rice forced Culpepper's errant pass into Warren Sapp's hands, triggering Tampa Bay's final scoring drive. ``Anytime you recover an onside kick, it's a momentum- turner,'' Bennett said. ``To give the ball back to them like that was a slap in the face.''
Despite Minnesota's gaudy offensive numbers, strong safety John Lynch wasn't depressed. Instead, he drew encouragement from the impressive statistics fashioned by teammates he faces each week on the practice field. ``That's not our game,'' he said of Tampa Bay's atypical defensive effort. ``We really needed our offense today and they came through, right from the start. We got a huge lead and the defense didn't know what to do with it. I guess we were in uncharted waters.''
Instead of settling for field goals, Johnson kept throwing touchdowns. And instead of sitting on a 24-10 lead, the Bucs marched 82 yards in six plays midway through the third quarter on another scoring drive. ``Any points are huge, but touchdowns are great,'' said outside linebacker Al Singleton, who disrupted an early fourth-quarter drive with his second career interception. ``There were a few times today we didn't keep our composure as a defense. They hit us with some big plays.''
For Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, Sunday's victory was another example of teamwork. ``Our offense was awesome, but I'm not surprised,'' he said. ``You could see it coming. I'm very proud to be a part of this football team. I'm not comfortable where we are, but I'm very comfortable where we're going.''