Jets use special effects to confound Bucs
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 15 December 1997

There's no punter more familiar with the swirling wind at Giants Stadium than Sean Landeta. It can hold up kicks or carry them like a kite depending on the direction your team is headed. "Many times when we played in conditions like this and won the toss, we would elect to kick off," said Landeta, who won two Super Bowl rings with the Giants. "Today I don't think it would've mattered. They were just tremendous. They were great."

It was the New York Jets special teams that blew away the Buccaneers in Sunday's 31-0 loss at the Meadowlands. Leon Johnson's return of the second-half kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown was the play that officially ended the Bucs' thoughts of a comeback. It was the longest kickoff return allowed by a Tampa Bay team and the first to be brought back for a score in five seasons. Mel Gray returned a kickoff 89 yards for the Detroit Lions on Sept. 27, 1989.

All told, the Bucs allowed 141 return yards, had a punt by Landeta blocked and committed several penalties to erase their own returns. "That's real disappointing," Bucs receiver Robb Thomas said. "Coming into today, we were the No. 1 kickoff coverage team in the NFL. We haven't allowed a touchdown in several years. That's doubly disappointing. We take a lot of pride in our special teams, especially in that kickoff team. And to have that happen, it's not what we wanted to come out in the second half and do."

Bucs safety Tony Bouie took the blame for allowing Raymond Austin to come free and block Landeta's punt out of bounds at the end of the first quarter. That mistake did not cost the Bucs any points as their defense made the Jets turn it over on downs at the Tampa Bay 10-yard line. "We got totally dominated in all three phases of the game," Bouie said. "My big role is special teams, so I take the blame for special teams. I had a punt blocked against me and that pretty much turned the momentum in their favor, and after that, it just kept snowballing."

Said Landeta: "He (Austin) came through untouched and I was shocked. I don't think I've had a punt blocked in four or five years and the protection here is tremendous. But it was just another reason why we didn't win today."

With all the egg laying, it's easy to forget what the Bucs special teams did right. Rookie Al Singleton blocked his second punt of the season in the second quarter. But the Bucs were unable to capitalize when Trent Dilfer fumbled a handoff intended for Errict Rhett after colliding with fullback Patrick Hape.

"We needed some more big plays and we didn't capitalize on the big plays we had," Singleton said. "I had the easiest job in the world because my teammates did all the work for me. I guess the person protecting (the punter) is supposed to come over and pick me up. But instead, Jerry Ellison was coming free also, so he picked him up. That left me free. We almost had a touchdown. Floyd Young almost picked it up, but the ball took a funny bounce."

Even Landeta's results were mixed. He had a team-record 74-yard punt. But he also had four punts of 31 yards or less, including a 22-yarder on his first attempt of the game. "We didn't play well and that's disappointing," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "It's disappointing we didn't play well in a game of this magnitude. But next week is the important thing. I think the Jets showed that. What you did the previous week really doesn't have a lot to do with that."