Opening Drive Sets Tone For Entire Game
The Tampa Tribune, published 15 December 2003

Tom Tupa didn't work up a sweat in the opening half Sunday, and that had his head coach all worked up. In rolling up 14 first downs and 210 yards before intermission, the Bucs limited their punter to bystander status in a 16-3 triumph against the second-year Texans. And when Thomas Jones burst 18 yards off right guard, shaking off three defenders at the goal line, the Bucs had made their point ... ending a streak of seven consecutive scoreless opening quarters.

It also marked the first time all season Tampa Bay registered a touchdown on its initial possession. ``We didn't punt in the first half?'' Gruden asked after the game. ``I like it. The biggest difference today was having the football outside the shadows of our own goal post.''

Jones capped an eight-play drive after Reggie Barlow's 17- yard punt return gave Tampa Bay possession at its 47. The Bucs moved at least 31 yards on each of their four first-half possessions in building a 13-0 advantage. Their average drive start - the Tampa Bay 34 - certainly didn't hurt. ``I think we had a little bit of a chip on our shoulders as an offensive line,'' said left tackle Roman Oben. ``When we scored on that first drive, it completely changed things.''

Offensive line coach Bill Muir was buoyed by a season- high 161 yards rushing that helped the Bucs run 70 plays and maintain possession for 38:34. ``Scoring on that first drive leads to an air of confidence for any offense,'' he said, ``and our confidence has been a little fragile, offensively. Today we played with a high level of efficiency and ran the ball well.''

Reaching the end zone remains a nagging concern as the Bucs settled for three Martin Gramatica field goals the rest of the way. Gramatica had a 41-yard attempt blocked and Brad Johnson's 50-yard pass to Michael Pittman was wiped out by a holding penalty against guard Cosey Coleman. ``We left tons of points out there today,'' Coleman said. ``We should have had 30-plus, easy. We're happy with the win, don't get me wrong, but in no way was that our best performance.''

John Lynch was thankful for the rare first- quarter lead. ``Scoring early means a lot to any defense,'' Lynch said. ``We can be a little more aggressive.''