Prideful Group Plays With Chip On Shoulder
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 16 September 2002

Derrick Brooks ran. He ran and the Bucs defense was back. Where had it been? How long will it stay?

The questions didn't matter Sunday. Derrick Brooks ran. He had batted a pass, grabbed the ball and ran. He ran 97 yards. He was mad the whole way. He'd been mad the whole week. ""There's no mistake about it we played with a little chip on our shoulder,'' Brooks said. ""They say we're getting old, this, that and the other. I get a little angry.''

They all got a little angry. They all got a little even. Tucked in Brooks' arm was an intercepted ball, believed to be the one pass not swatted away by Ronde Barber. Brooks carried a 25-0 shutout to the end zone. A shutout is a shutout is a shutout. It doesn't matter who it's against. The Bucs have played 406 games in their 27-year history. This was their fifth shutout. A shutout always matters. Especially this week. "We're a prideful group,'' John Lynch said.

It didn't matter that the Baltimore Ravens are suddenly awful or that Ravens quarterback Chris Redman was starting just his second NFL game or that Baltimore's offense marked the passing of John Unitas by observing 60 minutes of silence. OK, so the Bucs offense worries us. It can't close. It was outscored by Bucs special teams, by Martin Gramatica, by Brooks. Can we get these guys to throw into the end zone? This game looked like old Bucs stuff.

But you can't overestimate what a game like this meant to this defense and to this team. It had spent the first week of this season on its heels, waiting for the New Orleans Saints to make first downs on third downs, waiting to get pushed around. Sunday, the defense pushed back. Barber, who got his mitts on another six balls to kill another six pass plays Sunday, who right now is scary good, thought back to New Orleans. ""We got hit with a right and damn near knocked out in the first round,'' he said. ""But we buckled up and showed people what we were about today.''

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin trudged off the field at Ravens Stadium pumping a fist without raising it. ""Anybody who thinks John Lynch is too old to play, or Brooks, or Sapp, they need to take a good look at this tape,'' Kiffin said.

The pride had been wounded. Warren Sapp winked. ""They called us old and predictable last week,'' Sapp said. ""So I guess we can throw the old, predictable goose egg.''

John Lynch he of the lost step, too old, etc. wore a youthful grin. He remembered what Jon Gruden told his team on the eve of his first win as Bucs coach. The defense ate it up. Then it ate up the Ravens. ""He told us to go out and kick somebody's ...'' Lynch said. He thought back to last week. ""I think we played tentatively,'' he said. ""We watched a guy like Ronde Barber attack all over. The rest of us didn't do that. Today, we all did.''

Complete Domination. There were tackles that weren't missed. There were piles that moved backward instead of forward. Granted, Redman never had a chance. No play said as much as his fumble that scrambling Bucs turned into a safety. Redman wore black high-tops to honor Unitas. The similarity ended there. You can say what you want about the Ravens, but it is never a bad thing for a defense when the opponent has 11 possessions that go: punt, punt, punt, punt, blocked FG, fumble/safety, punt, punt, punt, interception, downs. Never.

The Bucs offense, still a mystery, did hold the ball enough to give the defense a rest and did go another week without a turnover. If that doesn't sound like Dungy ball, what does? But it's hard to imagine the Bucs beating many teams without its offense scoring a touchdown. It wasn't Sunday. Derrick Brooks ran. None of us know how many days like this the Bucs defense has left. Can it last? Won't the Rams have something to say about this? Who cared Sunday? It was special. A shutout is a shutout is a shutout. Quarles thought of last Sunday. ""We were challenged in a major way,'' he said. ""Sometimes that's good. It slaps you awake.''

And stirs your pride. There's no mistake about it.