It was a better day for Michael Vick this time around. That is, he made it through four quarters. However, for the second time this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ top-ranked defense flummoxed the budding superstar, holding him to 12 completions in 25 attempts for 125 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Vick came into the game riding a (deserved) wave of MVP hype, but it was his counterpart, Brad Johnson that played like the game’s most indispensable player, throwing four touchdown passes in the Bucs’ dominating, 34-10 victory. “All the talk all week was ‘How do you stop Michael Vick? How do you stop Michael Vick?” said Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden. “I made it clear that we respected what he could do, but nobody in America said, ‘How will he fare against the Buccaneers defense?’”
In two games against Tampa Bay, Vick has completed just 16 passes for 162 yards, one touchdown and one interception. On October six, Vick completed just four of 12 passes for 37 yards before sustaining an injured shoulder on a third-down Simeon Rice sack. He was hit hard several times on this Sunday as well, as the Bucs’ pass rush was relentless, but never left the game. Plus, any though that the second-year scrambler would run wild on the Bucs’ defense effectively ended on the third play of the game when LB Derrick Brooks hit him square in the chest after a one-yard scramble. After rushing just one time for one yard in the first Bucs-Falcons contest, Vick ran five times
Since Tampa Bay’s win in Atlanta, the Falcons had gone eight straight games without a loss, winning seven and tying one. During that stretch, Vick built his MVP candidacy and gained confidence for a rematch with the Bucs’ defense. However, Tampa Bay’s defenders played with unusual emotion and intensity throughout the afternoon, backed by a raucous crowd that was extremely loud from the game’s first snap. “It’s a big win for our team,” said Jon Gruden. “I’m very proud of our players. They came out and played hard and they beat a good team today that was very hot.”
Tampa Bay held Atlanta to 181 yards of offense, while their own attack more than doubled that mark, at 421 yards. Brooks led the Bucs’ defensive effort against Vick, amassing 10 tackles and a pass defensed, although what could have been his best moment was erased by a penalty. On Atlanta’s fourth-quarter touchdown drive, Brooks intercepted a third-down pass at the 26 and returned it 74 yards for an apparent touchdown, but a yellow hanky signaled offsides on DE Greg Spires and the play came back. Had it stood, Brooks would have tied the all-time NFL record for defensive touchdowns in a season. As it is, he is stuck on only four.
Johnson, meanwhile, had yet another pinpoint day, completing 23 of 31 passes for 276 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. With three games remaining, he has broken the team record for touchdown passes in a season – 22 – and has countered with only six interceptions. Johnson’s passer rating on the day was an astronomical 140.6. Backup Shaun King played the game’s final six minutes. The veteran passer’s favorite target on the afternoon was third receiver Joe Jurevicius, who caught eight passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Both the catches and touchdowns tied Jurevicius’ career high and were his best totals as a Buccaneer. Of course, WR Keenan McCardell wasn’t far behind with four receptions for 49 yards and two touchdowns.
After a scoreless and nearly yardless first quarter, the Bucs struck first with an impressively varied 80-yard touchdown march to start the second period. The drive’s big play was a 27-yard run by FB Mike Alstott down to the Falcons’ three-yard line. Though S Gerald McBurrows saved the touchdown with a diving tackle from behind, the Bucs put it in two plays later on WR Joe Jurevicius’ 10-yard scoring catch. Perhaps alluding to the infamous Atlanta ‘Dirty Bird’ merriment, Jurevicius performed that wedding staple, the Chicken Dance, to celebrate his third score of the season. Jurevicius didn’t have to wait long to party again. The Bucs got possession at the Falcons’ 10 four minutes later when S Dexter Jackson intercepted a pass that had been deflected by CB Ronde Barber. Two plays later, Jurevicius used his 6-5 height to pluck a lob pass out of the air over CB Ray Buchanan in the back middle of the end zone.
The Falcons did respond to Jurevicius’ second TD with their first scoring drive of the game, a 48-yard field goal march that started at the 40 thanks to a kickoff out of bounds. Vick, who had been largely stifled to that point, turned in a dazzling play near the end of the drive, escaping three near sacks to get off a 20-yard pass to TE Alge Crumpler. However, DT Anthony McFarland, playing in his first game in over a month, broke up a third-down screen pass at the line of scrimmage and the Falcons settled for Jay Feely’s 30-yard field goal.
However, any momentum the Falcons hoped to take into halftime was dashed when the Bucs ran a perfect two-minute drill to score again. The big play on this six-play, 80-yard march was a pass over the middle to RB Michael Pittman, who saw nothing but daylight in front of him after the catch. Pittman picked up 42 yards to the Falcons’ 28 before tripping, and three plays later Johnson hit WR Keenan McCardell on a simple slant for a 14-yard touchdown. Again, it was Buchanan, the loquacious Falcon corner, who was beaten on the play. The Bucs’ 21-point second quarter tied their best period of the year, another 21-point second quarter at Cincinnati on September 29, though that one included a defensive score. The Bucs had dominant statistics after the first half, leading 21-3 on the scoreboard and 190-78 on the yardage table. The Bucs also racked up 12 first downs to Atlanta’s four, completed 16 passes to Atlanta’s five and allowed only 30 passing yards. LB Derrick Brooks had his 10 tackles by the intermission, many of them of the de-cleater variety.
Tampa Bay carried that momentum into the second half, scoring field goals on their first two possessions, both on long, time-consuming drives. Jurevicius’ two third-down grabs sustained the first drive and TE Rickey Dudley’s 31-yard catch powered the second one. Late in the fourth quarter, the Falcons embarked on their only touchdown drive, an 86-yard march that was nearly interrupted by Brooks’ overturned pick. The Falcons also got a pass-interference call on the drive and eventually scored on Vick’s five-yard pass to TE Alge Crumpler.
Tampa Bay answered immediately with a five-play, 77-yard drive accomplished almost completely on three plays: RB Aaron Stecker’s 15-yard carry, FB Mike Alstott’s 32-yard run and McCardell’s 27-yard TD catch. Tampa Bay rotated freely between Alstott, Stecker and Michael Pittman throughout the afternoon, getting a total of 150 yards on the ground out of those three. Alstott led the charge with 95 yards on 13 carries. The Bucs head back out on the road next weekend for a game at Detroit. The team’s final regular-season home game will be a Monday-nighter against Pittsburgh on December 23.