Pickin' & Grinnin'
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 29 November 1999

The Bucs did it again on Sunday. They won despite an offense that continues to leave you shaking your head. Now they will have to try to unlock the mystery to scoring touchdowns without quarterback Trent Dilfer. Dilfer's season likely is over. His day came to a crashing end at the decaying Kingdome when Cortez Kennedy drove Dilfer's right shoulder into the building's unforgiving artificial turf, breaking Dilfer's right collarbone.

The Bucs" season, though, is alive and well. And it no longer is a mystery why. As they did the previous three weeks, the Bucs won with defense, defeating the Seahawks 16-3 in a game that left you thinking they could win without a quarterback. "It's no secret this team is built around us," defensive end Chidi Ahanotu said. "It would be nice if the offense put up some more points. But if we just keep pounding away, we know we can win. I've been telling the guys that all year, that we're special."

No one really knew just how special until Sunday as the Bucs (7-4) remained in a three-way tie for first in the NFC Central Division. Oh, there were signs that indicated the Bucs defense was a little out of the ordinary. But most of those were posted against offensive weaklings such as Philadelphia or teams such as Denver and Atlanta that have been hit as hard by injuries as Dilfer was by Kennedy. But the games they've played against teams with healthy, sound offenses, such as Minnesota, Green Bay and Detroit, left you wondering if their sparkling defensive rankings were real. So did their initial effort against the Seahawks (8-3), who travelled 64 yards to take a 3-0 lead 4:20 into the game.

From their second series, however, Bucs defenders were as steady and bothersome as a Seattle rain. In a city whose inhabitants went 90 consecutive days without sunshine earlier this year, the Bucs robbed Seahawks receivers and running backs of the daylight needed to make big plays. They also poured an avalanche of pressure on quarterback Jon Kitna, sacking him three times and intercepting him five times. "They kept coming and kept doing different things here and there so that we really couldn't get a bead on them," said Kitna, who completed 19 of 44 pass attempts for 197 yards. "I don't think they got me rattled or anything. I felt like I threw the ball firm and was playing as good as I could. Sometimes you just get beat by good teams."

And sometimes you beat yourself. The Bucs have done that a few times this season. On Sunday, it was the Seahawks" turn. Given the ball beyond their 35-yard-line five times, the Seahawks threw it away twice and were forced to punt three times, including twice after running three plays. You can play like that against the Bucs and stay in the game, though, and the Seahawks did, thanks to a Tampa Bay offense that was even less effective than Seattle's. Held to a season-low 156 yards, the Bucs went three-and-out on offense eight times. Their only sustained drive of the day was a 12-play, 54-yard run that tied the game 3-3 at 14:51 of the second quarter.

Their other scoring drives were set up by the defense, which won the turnover battle for the second consecutive week. A Derrick Brooks interception set up the second of Martin Gramatica's three field goals; a Warren Sapp sack and fumble recovery set up the third field goal; and a three-play defensive stand that forced the Seahawks to punt from their 32 late in the third quarter set up their only touchdown. Rookie quarterback Shaun King earned equal credit for that one. King, who had not played a regular-season down until Sunday and was active only because Eric Zeier remains sidelined with a rib injury, replaced Dilfer with the Bucs leading by three points three plays into the second half. He threw incomplete on his first three attempts and was sacked on his fourth.

However, on his sixth pass, King connected with Jacquez Green for 6 yards, then got some cushion when Warrick Dunn ran 17 yards to give the Bucs a first down at the Seattle 43. One play later, King hit Mike Alstott for a 24-yard gain, setting up the scoring play, a 2-yard pass to Patrick Hape in the back of the end zone. "That was a big drive for us and for Shaun," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "We were only up one score, and he took us down and got us the touchdown. "He just sort of let the pattern unfold on the touchdown pass, but that's the kind of thing we've been seeing from him in practice. We had no doubt he'd go in there and do a good job for us."