Martin Gramatica recovered a fumble at New Orleans that led to a touchdown
Plus 14. Minus 10. We're not talking a math test here, but a basic equation that could determine the outcome of Tampa Bay's critical game against Kansas City.
Those numbers represent the season-long turnover differential of the Chiefs and the Buccaneers, respectively. Kansas City's plus-14 is the best differential in the league; Tampa Bay's minus-10 is tied for the worst. It is almost without question that those two turnover-differentials have played a big part in Kansas City's 5-3 record and Tampa Bay's 4-4.
This is nothing new in Kansas City. Buccaneers Coach Tony Dungy was the Chiefs' defensive backs coach from 1989-91, and the team was among the league leaders in creating turnovers even then. Dungy went on to forge a similarly ball-hawking unit as the defensive coordinator in Minnesota from 1992 through 1995, and he is openly envious of that aspect of the current Chiefs squad.
"Their defense does a great job of creating havoc and getting turnovers," said Dungy. "We have to put a big premium on not letting their big-play guys get involved. Especially Derrick Thomas and James Hasty…we have to know where they are and keep them away from the ball."
Hasty leads the Chiefs with four interceptions, including one returned 56 yards for a touchdown. Thomas is famous, or infamous if you're an opposing coordinator, for a pass-rush move that includes an arm chop designed to separate the ball from the quarterback. This year, he has forced two fumbles, recovered another and also interepted one pass.
It will probably come as a surprise to noone that the numbers back up Dungy's emphasis on turnovers. Tampa Bay has had a positive turnover differential in only two games this year, but has won them both. The numbers are more telling if you widen the scope to Dungy's four seasons at the Bucs' helm. Tampa Bay is an overwhelming 18-3 in that span when they have had more takeaways then giveaways. In the same period, they are 3-5 when the turnovers are equal and 7-20 when they give it up more than they take it away.
Last week's game in New Orleans is a prime example. Though the Bucs' started off with a lost fumble on their first drive, the defense got the ball back one play later when CB Ronde Barber intercepted Billie Joe Tolliver's pass in the Bucs' end zone. Tampa Bay didn't score off that takeaway, but a Martin Gramatica fumble and a Derrick Brooks interception later in the game each led to touchdowns. Tampa Bay came into the game with a shockingly-low six points scored off turnovers in 1999, but upped it to 20 with those two scores. The offense gave up the ball twice, but each time the defense followed with a return turnover.