Almost Like Old Times
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune, published 15 October 2007

We were drifting off course and headed into sacred territory there for a bit. Forgive us.

We saw the big hits Sunday from safety Tanard Jackson and, wait a second, was that John Lynch? We saw the pressure defensive tackle Jovan Haye got on the Tennessee quarterbacks and, hold on, that's not No. 99 out there, is it?

Yes, admittedly we were guilty of excessive hyerbole after watching the defensive show put on by the Bucs in a 13-10 win against the Titans. But, seriously, it was just like the ol' days at times out there, with bodies flying and helmets rolling and opponents measuring progress in feet rather than yards.

Or so we thought. Then we talked to Monte Kiffin. 'No, no, not yet, not yet. I'm not going to compare us to those guys,' he said. 'We've only played, what is it, six games? In those days the pass rush was humming. We were better today, but we still have to get better.'

We'll go with that theory, mostly because it's true. Those Bucs built a defensive identity that will last for decades.

These Bucs are still feeling their way. These Bucs also let Kerry Collins drive the Titans 86 yards in the last quarter for a touchdown to tie the game with 1:17 to play. Those Bucs would have been appalled. 'It's really frustrating, you know. You can't be a great defense ...' Kiffin said.

It was suggested that such a drive might be part of the growing pains for a defense with more than a few young players. 'They need to grow up quick,' he said. 'We shouldn't give up that last drive.'

Well, we know what the film session in the Bucs' next defensive meeting will be like. The lads will have a few exhibits to offer in their defense, though, starting with the fact they limited Tennessee to 96 rushing yards. The Titans came in averaging 153. The Bucs forced three turnovers and almost had five. Two interceptions by Ronde Barber were overturned by replay.

The Titans wound up with 317 total yards, 13 more than the Bucs. That's not bad though, considering Tennessee had the ball 15 minutes more. The second half was a travesty on that front. The defense was on the field for all but 6:45 of the final two quarters.

That's something it needs to get used to, by the way, until the Bucs can fix a running game that has been blown to bits by injuries. They gained 30 yards on 15 carries, which didn't give the defense much of a blow. They punted six times on 10 possessions.

If that part of the game can't be fixed, either through trade or a trip to the healing waters of Lourdes for the backfield, then the task of holding the season together will fall on you-know-who. That's just like it was in 1999, when Trent Dilfer went down with an injury and the Bucs couldn't score but somehow wound up in the NFC Championship Game.

We won't even begin to predict that for this bunch - put that straitjacket away, please - but there are some similarities between those two units. It starts in the locker room. 'It isn't your starters or star players who make you great, it's the quality of your depth,' defensive end Kevin Carter said. 'We've got a lot of guys that people may not know their names, but they're making a big difference on this team.'

You look around at those names. Haye. Jackson. Phillip Buchanon, who it seems we mention every week. Greg White. Go down the list. These are not the Bucs of yore and legend, but they have hoisted this season on their shoulders. 'It doesn't matter who's out there,' defensive end Greg Spires said. 'If you're out there, you're the starter.'

This win needs at least a small asterisk. Tennessee's über weapon, quarterback Vince Young, was injured midway through the third quarter and didn't return. The Bucs had done a pretty good job on Young before the injury, though.

What happens from here is anyone's guess. So much depends on whether they can acquire a running back who can help, because even at something close to full strength it's going to be tough enough to score against the likes of Detroit, Jacksonville and some of the other teams they play from here on out.

Asking the defense to carry the whole load of keeping them close until Jeff Garcia performs his magic won't work every week. That's an argument for later, though. In the NFL, where you are now is all that matters. As Haye wryly noted, '4-2 sounds way better than 3-3.'

That's all that matters right now. We'll save the comparisons for later, when they might actually mean something. At this point, all we know for sure is that this defense is much improved and it gives the Bucs a chance to win. 'We could have done better, but we'll take it,' Haye said. 'To hold Tennessee to 10 points is pretty good - especially when it's 13-10. I'll take that every time.'