Singed secondary burns back
After backpedaling for much of the past few weeks, the Bucs secondary finally took a step forward Sunday night.
Scorched by some of the best in their past two home games, Tampa Bay's defensive backs lit the fire under themselves in a 23-10 upset of Minnesota. Entering the game with only six
interceptions on the season, the Bucs got huge pickoffs from safety Marty Carter and cornerback Milton Mack, setting up or accounting for 10 of Tampa Bay's points.
"The difference in this game as opposed to some of the others that we've played poor in was that the guys finally played with that fired-up intensity that's necessary in this league," said
Bucs defensive coordinator Floyd Peters, whose unit surrendered four-touchdown days to Green Bay's Sterling Sharpe and San Francisco's Jerry Rice within the previous three games.
The play of the game belonged to Mack, who stepped in front of a Sean Salisbury pass early in the third quarter, returning it 27 yards for his first NFL touchdown, and a 13-7 lead that
Tampa Bay never relinquished. "You're always somewhat embarrassed when things don't go your way," said Carter, whose first-half interception set up the Bucs' first points, a 26-yard Michael Husted field goal. "A large part of it had to do with the guys coming out with the fire in their body and playing as a team."
After Tampa Bay's opening drive ended with a punt, setting up Minnesota at midfield, the Vikings faced a third-and-two from the Bucs 31. That's when Carter turned the play into a personal highlight film, blitzing from the left side, tipping Salisbury's swing pass, before catching the deflection and returning it to the Tampa Bay 47.
It was Carter's first interception of the season - he tied Darrell Fullington and Milton Mack with a club-high three in 1992 - the first Bucs defensive turnover in three weeks.
The Bucs' big night came against a quarterback with a previously hot hand. In his three games since taking over for the injured Jim McMahon, Salisbury had thrown for 234 yards in less than a full game against Detroit, 347 in a loss to San Diego, and an NFC-season-high 366 yards in last week's Minnesota upset of Denver. But against Tampa Bay, Salisbury reverted to, well, Salisbury-like form: 15-of-34 for 161 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Salisbury's worst pass of the night was also his costliest. With the Vikings up 7-6 at the half, thanks to a 10-play, 90-yard drive to end the second quarter, Salisbury opened Minnesota's
initial second-half drive with a lead to protect for the first time all night. Not for long, however. On a second-and-six from the Vikings 24, the former USC standout threw a short out pattern in the vicinity of receiver Cris Carter.
It was an out pattern that helped Tampa Bay out. Carter, who didn't even turn around, never saw the ball. But Mack did, stepping up at the 27 and high-stepping home for a touchdown. I just came up with the big play," Mack said. "I just broke up on one and took a chance. That's what you have to do in this league sometimes, take a chance. My guess was right."
Don Banks, The St.Petersburg Times 1993