Game notes and anecdotes
The Tampa Tribune, published 9 December 2002

Derrick Brooks thought about it. He considered keeping the ball, but in the end, it didn't feel right. Brooks held on to the football for a while after returning an interception 74 yards for a touchdown, which would have been his fifth of the season, tying former Houston Oilers safety Ken Houston's NFL single-season record for defensive players. But a penalty flag at midfield, the result of an offsides call against DE Greg Spires, kept Brooks' quest for the record going. ``When I got in the end zone, I said, `Finally,' '' Brooks said. ``And then I turned around and saw that yellow trash on the field. I just dropped my head and said, `Unbelievable.' ''

Brooks hasn't found the end zone since his last touchdown, against Philadelphia on Oct. 20. ``It's the first time I've been thrown at in a while,'' said Brooks, who led the defense with 10 tackles. ``And I made him [Atlanta QB Michael Vick] pay for it. Hopefully I'll get another shot before the season is over, but it would have been nice to have scored and tie the record here in front of the home crowd.''

Even though MLB Shelton Quarles thought Spires had a good jump on the ball, Spires accepted blame. ``That was my fault. I'm sorry,'' Spires said. ``I'm just happy we won.''

A week after producing their lowest rushing total of the season (34 yards), the Bucs generated 150 rushing yards, the second-highest output of the season (they had 186 yards against Cleveland). FB Mike Alstott led the charge with 95 yards on 13 carries, including a season-high 32-yard run. Alstott said he missed days like Sunday. Days when he dragged defensive players behind him, leaving them in his wake. ``Let's do it some more,'' he said. ``The way things happened today, not just myself, [RB Michael] Pittman had a couple of big runs and [RB Aaron] Stecker had a huge run to get us a first down to wear out the clock. It is positive for our running game. And that's what we needed. We needed some confidence and we needed some positive output and it happened today.''

Coach Jon Gruden has been frustrated by the running game's lack of consistency, especially since he's tried just about every combination in an attempt to get the ground game jump started. He's used Pittman and Alstott as the primary ball carriers. There's also been the running back by committee approach, also involving Stecker. The carries were spread around Sunday, with Pittman rushing 25 yards on nine carries and Stecker gaining 30 yards on four carries. Still, Alstott isn't certain the committee approach is the correct one. ``I'm not going to say no, but at the same time, you talk to any running back, in different situations, yes [it can work],'' Alstott said. ``But as far as a rhythm, feeling out defenses, there has to be a bulk of carries somewhere.''

Anthony McFarland returned to the starting lineup for the first time in four games. McFarland, who had been sidelined with a broken forearm, made his presence felt in the middle. ``It felt good to get the chance to get out there and run around with the guys,'' said McFarland, who finished with one pass defensed. ``The defense played well today and we got a win. That's the most important thing. There was a little rust early. You're never going to come back where you left off. You just want to get the speed of the game as quick as you can. After the first couple of plays, I settled down and had some fun out there.''

John Lynch injured his neck late in the first quarter and did not return. X-rays were negative. Gruden said he expects Lynch to be ``ready to go next week.'' Backup S John Howell, in for the injured Lynch, stopped the Falcons on third-and-one when he sacked Vick for a 6-yard loss, forcing Atlanta to punt. ittman was shaken up during the Bucs' opening drive of the third quarter. He laid face down on the field after a 2-yard run. He sat out for a couple of plays and later returned.

Tampa Bay is 3-0 this season following a loss. Backup QB Shaun King made his second appearance of the season, entering in the fourth quarter. The Bucs moved into a tie with the New York Giants for third place with 38 consecutive games with a takeaway. The Philadelphia Eagles are first with a string of 71 games with at least one takeaway, from 1985-90. S John Howell’s first-quarter sack of QB Michael Vick was the first of his career. It also extended Tampa Bay’s NFL-long streak of consecutive games with a sack to 57. The all-time league record is 68, by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s and 70s. With 158 passing yards in the first half, Brad Johnson became the sixth passer in team history to record 6,000 passing yards as a Buccaneer. Just a few plays into the third quarter, Johnson passed Craig Erickson (6,094 yards) to move into fifth place on the Bucs’ all-time list. With 276 yards on the day, Johnson moved his two-year Buc total to 6,202 yards.) S Dexter Jackson intercepted a second-quarter Michael Vick pass after it was deflected by CB Ronde Barber, thereby extending Tampa Bay’s NFL-long streak of consecutive games with a takeaway to 38. That is tied for the third-longest streak in the last 20 years. For the third time this season, the Bucs responded to a loss with a victory. They are trying to become the first team in Tampa Bay history to go an entire season without back-to-back losses.