Bucs' Defense Is All Business Against Falcons
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 9 December 2002

John Lynch was injured. Strained neck. It was the first quarter and the Bucs' defense had lost a leader, a hitter, at the worst possible time. Across from them was the offense - and the quarterback - sweeping the NFL. In front of them was a game they had to win. Lynch went to the side. His replacement, a fellow named John Howell, hopped in the huddle. He saw Derrick Brooks, who'd been flying, putting his stamp on the day. Brooks didn't say a word. Warren Sapp gave Howell big eyes and a big smile. Howell nodded. ``Time to play,'' Howell said.

On the next play, Superman rolled out. John Howell, special teams guy, no name, rolled right with Atlanta Falcons wonder child Michael Vick. Then Howell rolled on top of him. Six-yard loss. No time to waste. Time to play.

You knew it the moment Vick scrambled for the first time and Brooks raced after him. You knew it when Buc after Buc made play after play - on both sides of the ball even. It was as complete a victory as we've seen from the Bucs in a long time. Maybe New Orleans was a case of bad oysters. This was the main course. Here was a 34-10 beating of a team that hadn't been beaten in two months, the up-and-comers from Vicksburg. Well, Vicksburg fell Sunday. ``We didn't put a cape on his back,'' Bucs rush monster Simeon Rice said. ``The rest of the world did. We just took it off him.''

Vick's talents were lost in a sea of red, where extraordinary is ordinary. Where discipline reigns. Where professionalism matters. Consummate and convincing. No gimmicks, no gadgets. Just football that wouldn't let up. Just professionals minding to details while leveling a team on the rise. The Falcons were felled by professional ax swingers.

Professionals like Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell, who caught two touchdowns apiece. Professionals like the quarterback who threw them the balls. Anybody still think Brad Johnson can't get a team to the Super Bowl? Give him 150 yards rushing like Sunday and anything is possible. It's possible because of the other professionals. Eleven of them start for the defense, and there's more where that came from. They are so special. They know their business. They knew it as people reveled in Vick's highlight-reel talent. ``We laid around and let everyone figure out how we were going to stop Vick,'' Bucs nose tackle Booger McFarland said. ``They never tried to figure out how they were going to stop us.''

No tricks. No gimmicks. Just a defense that has been doing this for a long time. A defense that seems to crank up even more when the big boys come to play. Vick was the big boy this time around. They were a little sick of hearing about him. We saw what happened. What happened was discipline, starting up front. What happened was professionalism. What happened was Atlanta had 97 yards of offense until the last play of the third quarter.

The Bucs covered the other options and dared Vick to outrun them. Then they ran and ran, feeding off Brooks, who made 10 tackles, who was everywhere. Everyone else was right behind him. Vick, who ran for a quarterback- record 173 yards last week, managed 16 yards in two games this season against the Bucs. ``I've never run up against a team like that,'' Vick said.

The only mistake the defense made came when Greg Spires was called for offsides, erasing an interception return for Brooks' fifth touchdown, always nice on the NFL Defensive Player of the Year resume. Or maybe it'll be Simeon. See what we mean? Special. With three games left, it still can be special. As special as pros doing their jobs. As special, and as simple, as a nod from John Howell, the new guy in the huddle. Time to play.