Controlling The Clock Big Key In Victory
Possession. It's nine-tenths of the law and Sunday night, it was Tampa Bay's ticket to a bye week. The Bucs failed to score a touchdown in beating the Bears 15-0, but Tampa Bay dominated the clock, maintaining possession for a season-high 37:29 as a rejuvenated running game churned out 161 yards in 36 attempts. Michael Pittman was particularly effective, gaining a season-high 90 yards behind a surging offensive line. ``We had to take the load off Rob Johnson's shoulders tonight and I think we did,'' second-year right tackle Kenyatta Walker said. ``It was time to get dirty. Our commitment to the running game was very strong. I can't remember the last time we called five or six running plays in a row, and that was important to get into a rhythm. No matter what people might say, this offensive line has gotten better as the season went on.''
Pittman, who also caught two passes for 28 yards, displayed more poise as a runner in his 21 carries. His patience was rewarded as he continually found big holes, especially off the right side. ``I feel I've been playing hard all year,'' he said, ``and tonight the guys up front did a great job. Coach [Jon] Gruden came to me before the game and said I would be getting the ball a lot. The holes were huge and all I had to do was run through them. We got such a good push up front and that was important because ball control was the key in this game. We did a great job of controlling the clock.''
Tampa Bay's league-leading defense, on the field for only 52 snaps, tipped its helmet to teammates. ``Our line did real well and Pittman got things going right from the start, setting up his blocks,'' defensive end Simeon Rice said. ``That's the Mike Pittman that ran so well in Arizona last year. What can I say about our offensive line? What they did tonight was phenomenal.''
Johnson was sacked five times, but only one or two were the result of poor blocking. He was content to hand off to Pittman or Mike Alstott, who added 42 yards in 12 carries, as the Bucs averaged 4.5 yards per rush. ``It wasn't the prettiest game, but I'll take 160 yards on the ground any day,'' right guard Cosey Coleman said. ``This whole weekend has been very exciting for us. The Jets stepped up big against the Packers to give us an opportunity and now we have a week off and momentum for a home game. I can't think of a better situation for the Tampa Bay Bucs.''
Left tackle Roman Oben was proud of his team's effort on the road, guided by a backup quarterback in adverse conditions. ``Pittman and Alstott ran the ball very well tonight,'' he said, ``and our offensive line will go into the playoffs with a positive frame of mind. Rob Johnson has done what we've asked him to do and my thanks go out to the New York Jets for helping us out today. I tried not to watch their game, but I couldn't help hearing our guys screaming every time they scored against the Packers.''