DT Warren Sapp proudly displays one of the six Buccaneer takeaways against Seattle
The Buccaneers' game at Oakland is still three weeks away, but Tampa Bay has already adopted the Raiders' unofficial motto: 'Just Win, Baby.' That's all the team did in the month of November, finishing off a four-game winning streak with a convincing 16-3 win at Seattle on Sunday. As the motto suggests, results are more important than methods, and the Bucs' have certainly varied this month.
In Seattle, the key was turnovers, as the Buccaneer defense recorded a season-high six takeaways while the offense committed no giveaways for just the second time all season. The Bucs' five interceptions and one fumble recovery resulted in only six points for Tampa Bay but served the more important purpose of constantly short-circuiting Seahawk scoring opportunities. It also turned the fourth quarter into Buccaneer-dominated crunch time, as the team had three takeaways in the final period and scored 10 unanswered point to put away a previously tight game.
The victory was important for the team's playoff chances but also came at a steep price. Starting QB Trent Dilfer was lost for the game, and likely the season, when he suffered a broken right clavicle early in the second half.
For the second straight week, Tampa Bay's opponent scored on its opening possession, as QB Jon Kitna hit WR Sean Dawkins on a 34-yard completion in the opening minutes to boost a 64-yard field goal drive. The Buccaneer defense held Seattle to just three points on the march when a third-down blitz forced Kitna to throw the ball away. That would be a scene that would repeated itself constantly over the remainder of the game.
The Bucs did not score in the first quarter but did put together most of a drive that ended in a second-quarter field goal. A Dilfer completion to TE Dave Moore on third-and-five netted 26 yards, by far the biggest gainer on an otherwise methodical 12-play, 54-yard march. Rookie PK Martin Gramatica finished the drive with a 42-yard field goal two plays into the second period.
Neitehr team managed much offense for the remainder of the second period, but the Buccaneer defense came up big again with a pair of interceptions, one by CB Donnie Abraham that ended a Seattle drive near midfield and another by LB Derrick Brooks that set up a go-ahead field goal. Brooks' leaping pick of a Kitna pass and 10-yard return led to a first down for Tampa Bay at Seattle's 25. Though they could get only three yards closer, Gramatica was again dead-on from 40 yards out. Tampa Bay took that 6-3 lead into halftime.
Dilfer suffered his game-ending injury on the second play of the third quarter as he tried to elude a strong Seattle pass-rush that eventually notched five sacks, four on Dilfer. He couldn't escape DE Phillip Daniels, who slammed Dilfer to the turf and necessitated the first action of the season by rookie QB Shaun King.
King had little luck jumpstarting the Bucs' offense in the third period, though he did have two on-target throws dropped by his receivers. King did play with poise, however, and avoided turnovers until his chance to build a touchdown drive came late in the period. Meanwhile, the Buccaneer defense came at Kitna with perhaps its most diverse blitz scheme of the season, notching just three sacks but hurrying Kitna into poor throws on repeated occasions.
After such a blitz finished off a three-and-out late in the third quarter, King and the Bucs took over at their own 33. RB Warrick Dunn converted a critical third-and-three on the last play of the period by taking a toss around left end and weaving 17 yards for a first down to the Seahawks' 43. As the final quarter began, Dunn took off for 12 more yards around right end and FB Mike Alstott followed with a 24-yard ramble on a short screen pass to the same side.
Two plays later, the Bucs faced a third-and-goal from the Seahawks' two-yard line. King showed his poise again, standing in the pocket as the play developed and firing a touchdown pass to TE Patrick Hape in the back of the end zone. The first TD pass of King's career gave the Bucs a 13-3 lead that started to seem insurmountable considering the play of the Tampa Bay defense.
And indeed that was the case, as Seattle's final three drives each ended in turnovers. Gramatica tacked on one more field goal after a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery by DT Warren Sapp, a 37-yarder that split the uprights evenly. Sapp's sack was his 10th of the season and it gave him 39.5 for his career to move him past David Logan (39) into second place on the team's all-time list.
The efforts of the Buccaneer defense allowed Tampa Bay to extend its winning streak to four games, one shy of the team record, despite just nine first downs and 156 yards of total offense. It was an unusual way to win, particularly on the road, but one that will be hard to forget…just like the rest of this undefeated November.