Line Earns Respect
This one was personal for the offensive line. How could it not be? The last time the Bucs faced the Panthers, Carolina's pass rush was all over quarterback Rob Johnson, registering six sacks. The Bucs escaped with a last-second victory, but for the offensive line, it seemed more like a defeat.
``They whupped us,'' said Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker, who allowed Panthers rookie Julius Pepper to register two of his league-leading 11 sacks that day. ``They literally just put us on their lap and whupped us. I don't like to get whupped a lot.''
Walker arrived at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday with revenge and, more importantly, respect on his mind. Walker and the entire Bucs offensive line answered the challenge, holding Carolina to a pair of second-half sacks that had little impact in Tampa Bay's 23-10 victory. ``It was a respect game,'' Walker said. ``We had to get respect. It amazes me how a team that is 3-6 talks so much noise. I was really sick and tired of hearing about Peppers the whole week. It was getting on my nerves. This gained us some respect - for this offensive line and this team.''
Unlike three weeks ago when the Panthers chased Rob Johnson around the field, Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson had plenty of time to throw. In the first half, Johnson passed for 177 of his 253 yards while the Bucs held Carolina, which entered with a NFL-leading 33 sacks, without a sack. ``They blitzed a lot and we picked it up,'' Walker said. ``We were working on it for two weeks.''
Bucs right guard Cosey Coleman echoed Walker's belief that the offensive line rebounded from the poor showing earlier against Carolina, which was without defensive tackle Brentson Buckner. Buckner, who had a sack in the first meeting, is serving a suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. ``This is a new-found rivalry. Every game against the 'Cats from now on will be personal,'' Coleman said. ``For some reason after the last game - even though we won it - they still came in here with their chest stuck out. All that put aside, they are still a good football team. We just had to come out and step it up. Up there in Carolina, we didn't play half as good as we wanted to play. We kind of gave them a false sense of who the Buccaneers are.''
While the offensive line did a good job of pass protecting, it had problems run blocking. The Bucs gained only 67 yards rushing and no one can seem to figure why the running game remains inconsistent. ``That's the million-dollar question,'' Coleman said.
Center Jeff Christy, who played after having arthroscopic knee surgery Nov. 4, said the offensive line proved Sunday it can overcome its problems. ``We executed,'' Christy said. ``Up there, we didn't execute and acted like we had never played together.''
For Walker, he knows the offensive line's play Sunday will only quiet the critics until the next game. ``It was a good game,'' Walker said. ``We've got Green Bay now. You know what the old saying is, `Yesterday's news is today's toilet paper.' That's about how long it will last.''