Bucs 21 Patriots 16
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 4 September 2000

It all came down to the final play with one tick left on the game clock. Hollywood couldn't have written a better ending. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense had smothered the New England Patriots offense all day, but the Bucs' offense went too conservative too soon and allowed the Patriots one last gasp near the Bucs' red zone. But it was not to be for the Pats as Drew Bledsoe's final pass sailed .out of bounds through the end zone and the Bucs held off New England 21-16 at Foxboro Stadium. It wasn't the prettiest of wins, but it gave the Bucs their first season opening road victory of the Tony Dungy era.

The play of the Tampa Bay defense, especially the defensive line, was sensational. The defensive line accounted for four sacks - two by Marcus Jones and one each by Steve White and Warren Sapp - while Shelton Quarles and Ronde Barber each recorded one sack on blitzes. The Bucs defense perpetually harassed Bledsoe, forcing him to either throw early or throw the ball away, due to a furious pass rush. Combine that with a 15-tackle, one forced fumble performance by Derrick Brooks and a six-tackle, one fumble recovery effort by John Lynch and the Bucs defenders were making plays all over the field.

Patriots running back Kevin Faulk, who had a 58-yard touchdown run in the preseason meeting two weeks ago, was held to just 21 yards on 10 carries. The Pewter Pirates defensive unit was one play from a faultless performance. Bledsoe threw a perfect strike to WR Terry Glenn right before he was hit by a blitzing Ronde Barber. Glenn ran an excellent fly pattern and made the 39-yard catch over outstretched comerback Donnie Abraham to pull the score to 21-16. New England was still alive with just 4:16 remaining in the fourth quarter. But the critical 2-point conversion was stopped when Sapp forced Faulk to tumble the counter-option pitch from quarterback Michael Bishop. Sapp recovered and the Bucs' lead remained at five points. Had the Patriots converted the 2-point attempt, the lead would have been slashed to just three points.

The Patriots would get one last chance to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. With less than two minutes remaining in the contest. New England got the Call back on the Tampa Bay 45-yard line after a Mark Royals 3)-yard punt. Bledsoe managed to mave the ball methodically down the field while both teams kept a wary eye on the clock. Finally, the Pats signal-caller faced a fourth-and-1 at the Tampa Bay 22-yard line with one second remaining in the game. Bledsoe, who performed admirably 26-of-39 for 216 yards and one touchdown] under constant duress from relentless Buccaneers pass rush, was forced to throw early under a thunderous rush by Tampa Bay's front four. His desperation heave to WR Terry Glenn fell harmlessly to the turf and the Bucs had secured their initial win of the 2000 NFL campaign.

New England was able to creep back into the game due in part because the Bucs' offense went from hot to cold as the game progressed. Shaun King showed great poise and presence going 12-for-24 for 167 yards and one touchdown. Wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson (4 catches for 64 yards) and Jacquez Green (2 catches for 67 yards) came up big when big plays had to be made. Finally, the running game, that had been less than stellar in the preseason, exploded for 140 yards with running backs Warrick Dunn carrying 16 times for 56 yards and Mike Alstott gaining 54 yards on 16 carries, two of which went for touchdowns.

The only sour note of the afternoon was the play of the special teams. Giving up a 66-yard touchdown on a punt return to Pats returner Troy Brown, who also caught seven passes for 70 yards was bad enough, but numerous mental breakdowns that caused the Bucs to use two fourth quarter timeouts on special teams plagued Coach Joe Marciano's charges. Marciano wilL definitely be re-tooling the special teams to avoid this kind of performance in the future.

New England drew first blood after Buccaneers kick returner Karl Williams fumbled the opening kickoff when he was hit by Pro Bowler Larry Whigham. The Patriots recovered on the Tampa Bay 28-yard line, and tried to catch the Bucs off-guard by using a no-huddle offense, but the drive stalled at the Bucs 12-yard line after a well-timed blitz by Quarles and Barber forced Bledsoe to unload the pass early to tight end Eric Bjomson. Kicker Adam Vinatieri capped the seven-play, 16-yard drive with a 30-yard field goal to give New England a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter.

The Buccaneers answered with their initial possession of the second quarter with a 5-yard scamper by Alstott. The cutback run by the A-Train was the culmination of an 11- play, 30-yard drive which put the Bucs ahead for the first time at 7 3 with a successful point after touchdown by kicker Martin Gramatica.

Trailing 10-7 after Brown's 66-yard punt return, Tampa Bay finished the second quarter scoring right before half time on an amazing play. After a 33-yard pass-and-run from QB Shaun King to wide receiver Jacquez Green on a third-and-1 from the Patriots 41-yard line, the Bucs lined up quickly to spike the ball at the 8-yard line because their trio of timeouts had been depleted. After taking the snap from center Jeff Christy, King performed a slight-of-hand manoeuvre that would have made master illusionist David Copperfield jealous. King faked a spike, then stepped back and lofted a perfect fade pass to wide receiver Reidel Anthony in the right comer of the end zone. The Bucs offense sold this play beautifully as only King and Anthony moved on the play. This completed a four-play, 50-yard drive and this piece of Les Steckel magic put the Bucs back on top 14-10 with a successful conversion by Gramatica. King was 4-for-4 on the drive, accounting for all 50 yards through the air.

The Patriots had enough time to run two plays, moving the bail to the Rues' 38-yard line after Bledsoe hit Brown on an 11-yard pass. After a Bledsoe spiked the ball to stop the clock, Vinatien was short on a 55 yard field goal into a stiff breeze.

The first New England turnover led to the next Buccaneers scare midway through the third quarter. On a third-and-13 from their own 13-yard line, Faulk, acting as the safety valve, caught a pass from Bledsoe. As he tried to power for first down yardage, Brooks separated him from the football. Lynch gathered up the loose pigskin and returned it to the Pats' 24-yard line setting up the Buccaneers offense with their first short field opportunity of the season.

The offense did not disappoint as Alstott slid outside behind a biock by guard Randall McDaniel, who was lined up as a fullback in the jumbo formation, on a 3-yard power lead. Right tackle Jerry Wunsch and Johnson did a great job of blocking as Alstott walked into the end zone for his second score of the day. The four-play. 24-yard drive gave Tampa Bay a 21-1D lead after Gramatica's extra point.

But the Bucs offense couldn't pick up opportunities with the ease that they had in the first half as they tried to chew some time off the clock by running the football. Hew England's defense stiffened and Bledsoe and Co. made a close game of it in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay's offense was three-for-three inside the "Green Zone ", as Steckel would call it, with three touchdowns and gained 296 yards in the debut of his scheme. The offense will have to keep improving and keep scoring touchdowns as the high-powered offense of the Chicago Bears comes to Raymond James Stadium next Sunday for Tampa Bay's home opener. Of course having the defense play as well as it in New England wouldn't hurt, either.