DT Warren Sapp displays the ball after recording one of the Bucs' six defensive takeaways
Last week, noting his team's three-way tie for first in the NFC Central with Detroit and Minnesota, Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy called the remainder of the year a 'six-game season.' Well, make it five now.
Tampa Bay matched Detroit's and Minnesota's weekend wins by downing Seattle 16-3 in front of a raucous Seattle Kingdome crowd. The win over the 8-2 Seahawks extended the Buccaneers' winning streak to four games and snapped Seattle's at five.
The Buccaneers prevailed by a healthy scoreboard margin despite gaining only 158 yards of offense and losing its starting quarterback, Trent Dilfer, to a broken right clavicle in the third quarter. Rookie second-rounder Shaun King took over for Dilfer and directed the Buccaneers on the only touchdown drive of the game, an early fourth-quarter 67-yard drive that turned a 6-3 nailbiter into a comfortable lead.
Tampa Bay was able to stay in a neck-and-neck race with the Seahawks because its stalwart defense had one of its best days of the season. Not only did the Buccaneers continually turn back Seattle drives that started around midfield, but they forced six turnovers, including five interceptions off QB Jon Kitna.
After neither team did much of significance in the third quarter, the Bucs began the final period on a promising drive that started at the end of the previous period. Tampa Bay went the distance on the drive for a touchdown that put the Bucs up by 10 point with 12:21 remaining.
Tampa Bay started the 67-yard march with a 12-yard Warrick Dunn burst around left end. On the next play, QB Shaun King threw a quick swing pass to FB Mike Alstott in the left flat and Alstott barrelled through a string of tacklers to pick up 24 yards down to the Seattle seven. A two-yard run by Dunn and a three-yarder by Alstott set up third-and-goal from the two. King put the Bucs in the end zone on the next play by coolly standing in and firing a two-yard touchdown pass to TE Patrick Hape in the back of the end zone.
A 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Seahawks allowed Tampa Bay to kick off from its own 45, and Martin Gramatica booted the kick through the Seattle end zone. After the Seahawks had picked up one first down, the Buccaneer defense came up with its fourth turnover of the game. DT Warren Sapp blew threw his blocker to get to QB Jon Kitna and strip the ball away. Sapp also recovered the loose ball, recording his 10th sack of the season and giving Tampa Bay possession at the Seattle 28-yard line. Three plays later, Gramatica knocked through his third field goal of the game, a 37-yarder that hit dead center between the uprights.
The sack was the 10th of the season for Sapp and it also gave him 39.5 in his career, moving him past David Logan (39.0) into second place on the Bucs' all-time list.
Seattle refused to go quietly. Kitna started the next drive with a 22-yard pass to WR Sean Dawkins. Three runs netted the 'Hawks another first down to the Bucs' 40. From there, the Seahawks netted only two yards on the next three plays but were in a position that demanded they go for it on fourth down. Not finding anyone open, Kitna was forced to heave up a desperation pass that resulted in an easy interception for CB Brian Kelly. Kelly caught the ball at the Tampa Bay 25 and returned it 26 yards to just over midfield.
With just 5:45 remaining and the Bucs up by 13, Tampa Bay played it close to the vest with five straight running plays. Alstott burst up the middle for a four-yard gain on first down and a seven-yard pickup on second down. Alstott then barrelled back up the middle for a two-yard gain but was called for holding on the next play. The Bucs continued to run, however, in order to kill the clock, and eventually punted from the 43-yard line with 3:14 remaining. Mark Royals punted 43 yards into the end zone for a touchback.
That Seahawk possession ended on Ronde Barber's interception and 43-yard return to the Seattle 18. It was the fifth interception of the day by the fifth different Buccaneers. Tampa Bay ran out the final two minutes from there.