A new Kingdom comes
The Bucs needed a huge effort from a homegrown rookie quarterback making his first NFL start on Monday Night Football to defeat the Minnesota Vikings. It was King-sized. Shaun King, a former Gibbs High star who grew up rooting for the Bucs, threw a pair of touchdowns in the second half to author a storybook beginning to his pro career and lead Tampa Bay to a 24-17 victory over the Vikings.
Trailing 14-10 at halftime, King fired touchdown passes of 29 yards to Jacquez Green and 1 yard to tight end Dave Moore. King's second TD pass was set up by a fumbled punt return by Yo Murphy, the former Bucs rookie who was claimed off waivers by Minnesota on Wednesday. "Shaun did a good job of taking what was available and staying with the game plan," Tony Dungy said of King, who finished 11-for-19 for 93 yards, two TDs and an INT. "He got us into the right plays and he really didn't get rattled. Shaun did fine. He's probably one of the most composed guys on the team."
King got plenty of help from an elastic Bucs defense that yielded yards but forced three turnovers. Cornerback Donnie Abraham intercepted two passes from Jeff George, returning the first 55 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the game. It was the fifth straight victory for the Bucs, who improved to 8-4 and are in a first-place tie with Detroit in the NFC Central. The loss snapped the Vikings' five-game winning streak and dropped them to 7-5. Tampa Bay hosts Detroit at 4:15 p.m. Sunday. "We're just starting the fourth quarter of things and we're in a good position," Dungy said. "We've got some tough Central Division games at home. But you've got to win your home games to be a championship team."
King, who had thrown just seven regular-season passes, was making his first pro start in relief of Trent Dilfer, who broke his clavicle last week at Seattle. King had a tough first half, losing a fumble that led to the Vikings' first TD and being intercepted by safety Robert Griffith. His halftime stats were 5 of 8 for 39 yards. But King ignited the Bucs in the second half. He started by firing a 10-yard completion to Green for a first down. Four plays later, King connected with Green on a strike in the back of the end zone that enabled the Bucs to reclaim the lead at 17-14. "I got great protection from the offensive line," King said. "I just threw it up there and Jacquez made a great catch."
It was the second offensive touchdown for the Bucs in 12 quarters, and King had directed both. He had plenty of help, as fullback Mike Alstott rushed for 95 yards on 23 carries. The Bucs also sacked George four times, two by nose tackle Brad Culpepper. "I felt good. I did what I had to do," King said. "I didn't make any serious mistakes to cut down chances of winning. "I'm just really happy for a lot of people in Tampa Bay. I wanted to show them I appreciate their support and everything they do to make me feel comfortable as their quarterback."
Murphy's fumbled punt loomed as the biggest play of the game. The fumble was caused by linebacker Jeff Gooch and recovered by linebacker Shelton Quarles at the Minnesota 15. King converted a key third-down pass to Karl Williams for a first down, and on third and goal he rifled his play- action pass to Moore for what proved to be the decisive score. The Vikings, who outgained the Bucs 339 to 190, needed a touchdown to send the game into overtime after Gary Anderson's 34-yard field goal with 5:50 to play. Minnesota drove to the Tampa Bay 25, but a false start, a sack by cornerback Ronde Barber on first down and two incompletions by George ended the game.
The Bucs weren't the only ones impressed with the boy King. "We like Shaun King," Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "We think he did a good job. Any time you throw two touchdowns, you have to be happy. "He made some nice plays. He made a great throw down the middle and scrambled for a huge first down when time was getting crucial."
The Vikings offense dominated the first half but did not have much to show for it. Minnesota led in first downs (12-4), total yards (204-98) and time of possession (19:11-10:49). But until the final 5:52 of the half, the Bucs held a 10-0 lead. The Vikings' first four possessions ended at the Bucs 39, 38, 27 and 25. The results of those marches were an interception, fumble, missed field goal and interception. "In a game like this, you can't make mistakes and win," Dennis Green said. "I guess you can get lucky. I don't think I've ever been a guy who counts on luck."
King had not even put a cleat on the field before the Bucs led 7-0 with 13:31 remaining in the first quarter. On the third play of the game, George looked to his right and tried to zip a quick pass to receiver Jake Reed in the flat. But Abraham, who was blitzing, timed his leap and intercepted the pass at point-blank range. It was Abraham's fourth interception in three weeks and the second he returned for a score. His 47-yard INT return against Atlanta sealed the Bucs' win. "Donnie's played well for us," Dungy said. "He had his hands on four balls today and really made some big plays."
The Vikings used a 23-yard run by Robert Smith to drive deep into Bucs territory on their second possession. But it also ended with a miscue when Leroy Hoard was stripped by linebacker Hardy Nickerson and safety Damien Robinson recovered at the Tampa Bay 33. The Vikings' third drive ended when Anderson missed a 46-yard field goal wide left. Behind the powerful running of Alstott, the Bucs drove the ball 64 yards in eight plays.
But despite first and goal from the 10, they were unable to put the ball in the end zone. Alstott lost a yard on first down, King hit receiver Bert Emanuel for 5 yards on second down and tried to scramble for a score before he was dropped at the Vikings 3. Rookie Martin Gramatica kicked a 20- yard field goal, and the Bucs led 10-0. Abraham's second pick, his sixth interception of the year. came when he stole a pass intended for Randy Moss in the end zone for a touchback.
When the Vikings finally got on the board, they had their defense and the Bucs to thank. King was sacked and stripped by defensive end Chris Doleman and John Randle recovered at the Tampa Bay 22. Five plays later, Hoard slammed across the goal line from 1 yard to cut the lead to 10- 7. The Bucs should have taken their lead to the locker room at halftime. But Williams muffed a punt from Mitch Berger that was recovered by Vikings safety Antonio Banks at the Tampa Bay 10 with 56 seconds remaining. On third and goal, George fired a 1-yard TD pass to Cris Carter to give the Vikings a 14-10 lead.
Rick Stroud , The St.Petersburg Times 1999