Statistically, DT Warren Sapp had very little impact in the Buccaneers' consecutive games at Detroit (10/31) and New Orleans (11/7). The Bucs split those two contests, but Sapp contributed just five tackles and no sacks to the stat sheets. That after the dominant defensive tackle had racked up 26 tackles and seven sacks through the first five games that he had played in 1999.
Not to worry. This is not a 1998 issue, a regression to what Sapp feels was basically a lost season, when his final-season sack total tumbled from 10.5 in 1997 to just seven. Sapp, who lost 40 pounds during the 1999 off-season and gained an equal measure of righteous self-indignation, was determined not to repeat his '98 effort.
"I was fat," said Sapp during the off-season. "I let those guys (his teammates) down. That ate at me more than anything. I won't go through that again. I'm going to make enough plays to take this team to a championship."
So, after a two-week period that was not as productive as Sapp would have liked, the two-time Pro Bowler slugged it into another gear. "I've watched the film," said Sapp after the New Orleans game, "and believe me, I plan on doing something about it."
He didn't wait long. Midway through the first quarter of the Buccaneers game against the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday, Sapp sped around All-Pro G Will Shields and dove at QB Elvis Grbac just as Grbac was preparing to pass. Sapp got his arm on Grbac's before it started forward (a fact ratified by a replay challenge by Kansas City), forcing a fumble that Sapp himself fell on at the Chiefs' 21 to set up the Bucs' first good scoring chance of the day.
That was Sapp's only sack of the day, but he continued to draw double teams throughout the contest and a relentless Buc rush helped hold Grbac to 14 gross passing yards in the first half. His takedown of Grbac pushed his team-leading sack total to eight, just two off the NFL lead. He is on pace to eclipse the Buccaneers' single-season sack record of 13, held by Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon, and is only two behind David Logan for second place on the franchise's career sack chart.
Despite his two-game lull, Sapp has still had at least one sack in five of the eight games he's played in (he missed one contest and much of another with a fractured left hand). He is eyeing his second double-digit sack season in the last two years, with thoughts of reaching that level this Sunday. Atlanta comes into the game ranked 29th in the league in sacks allowed per pass play, having permitted its quarterbacks to be taken down 36 times. Counting the pre-season, Tampa Bay has already played the three teams currently ranked 28th, 30th and 31st – Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit – and totaled 17 sacks in those three games.
Sapp set a lofty personal goal of 20 sacks this season. While that near-record total may be out of reach, the NFL lead is not. No Buccaneer player has ever led the league in a major statistical category (rushing, receiving or passing yards, scoring, punt or kickoff return average, punting, sacks or interceptions) for a single season. If Sapp does become the first, it would not be a surprise to Pro Football Weekly, which recently named the Buccaneer defender as its Mid-Season Defensive MVP.