Bucs defense finally returns
The sack was as professional as any in the NFL. The ensuing celebration was as youthful as a prep squad. This is what happens when a unit answers its critics with a take- that performance. Defensive tackles Brad Culpepper and Warren Sapp capped a night of retribution with a game-ending sack of Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre. Players piled on top in a joyful celebration. "It was like high school," Culpepper said. "Sapp and I were on the bottom, but I was on my back and Sapp was on his stomach. I was starting to suffocate. It's easy when you're on your stomach, especially when your stomach is as big as Sapp's."

The first line of the Bucs defense had become the subject of one- liners, and they weren't very flattering. A year after appearing to be the best unit on the team, the defense had failed to dominate as it did when it propelled Tampa Bay to 11 victories last season. In 1997, there was a team-record 44 sacks, but this season had yielded only 20 sacks in 12 games. Injuries, ingenuity and ineffectiveness had taken a toll on the front four. Defensive end Chidi Ahanotu was lost after four games; teams schemed for the rush with three-step drops and quick passes; and at times the defensive line just didn't play well. "It's been a frustrating season," Culpepper said. "Quarterbacks were just getting rid of the ball, throwing it nowhere to avoid the sack. We've had a good pass rush but we just haven't had the numbers."

On Monday night, however, the front four - with a little help - were as ferocious as ever, forcing Brett Favre to fumble six times and producing eight sacks against the three-time MVP. The defensive line accounted for 18 tackles and six sacks. One of the leaders was Sapp, who seems to play his best against Green Bay. "They play an open game and they like to get all their backs into the pattern," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "So Warren ends up getting a lot of single blocks against Green Bay. It's tough to play him when you get a lot of single blocks."

Sapp was credited with his seventh sack of the season when he forced Favre to fumble in the third quarter. Seven of his 31.5 career sacks (counting the post-season) have come against the Packers, and five of his seven multiple sack games have occurred against Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota. "We knew we had to stop their run," Sapp said. "We weren't really concerned, we just knew we had to step it up and put it on them tonight. (Favre) wasn't comfortable. He didn't feel comfortable back there, and that's what we wanted to do - make him feel uncomfortable."

But this was more than just Sapp. Culpepper set the tone early when he forced Favre to fumble on the third play of the game. The pressure continued throughout the first half with Favre fumbling five times. Credit Culpepper, defensive end Regan Upshaw, cornerback Ronde Barber and linebacker Jeff Gooch for Favre's first-half miscues. Amazingly, the Packers recovered four of Favre's five fumbles, but tackle Marcus Jones actually came up with the fifth fumble late in the second half.

Overall, the Bucs forced eight fumbles, a team record. And the eight sacks are the most allowed by Green Bay this season. Each member of the Bucs' starting defensive line recorded at least one sack, and Upshaw led the way with two.

Ernest Hooper, The St.Petersburg Times 1998