S John Lynch's interception in the fourth quarter sealed the Bucs' victory
Call the beginning of the Brad Johnson era in Tampa Bay a success. Just don't scream it from the rooftops.
Johnson was every bit the accurate and composed passer he was purported to be, but the Bucs still had to scrape by the Dallas Cowboys, 10-6, in Texas Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Despite holding rookie QB Quincy Carter and the Cowboys to 127 total yards of offense, the Bucs had to sweat out the victory to the final seconds.
The game wasn't over until S John Lynch intercepted an overthrown fourth-down pass at the Buccaneers' 14. It was the third takeaway of the game for the swarming Tampa Bay defense, which also turned in a Dexter Jackson interception and a Donnie Abraham fumble recovery.
The Bucs went into the fourth quarter trailing, 6-3, but got the game-winning touchdown on a sparkling 77-yard touchdown drive engineered by Johnson. On the march, Johnson completed five of six passes for 63 yards, twice converting third-down plays with precision passes to WR Jacquez Green.
The winning TD drive opened in the third quarter with a 19-yard sideline pass to WR Keyshawn Johnson, then was improbably kept alive when Brad Johnson threaded an impressive 25-yard post to Green on the right sideline. Green dragged his toes in bound to give the Bucs a first down at the Dallas 29.
As the fourth quarter began, Johnson again found Green on third down, hitting the sliding receiver on a six-yard slant. Green then took an out pass to the Dallas four. After RB Warrick Dunn sliced off a FB Mike Alstott block down to the edge of the goal line paint, Johnson powered the ball over the goal line himself for his first score as a Buccaneer.
In all, Johnson completed 26 of 35 passes for 195 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Very few of his passes went downfield, but almost none were significantly off target. Johnson also made far greater use of his wide receivers than the Bucs are used to seeing, hitting Green eight times for 75 yards and Johnson seven times for 71 yards.
Johnson's synchronization with his wideouts made up for a running game that had difficulty with a refashioned and much quicker Dallas defense. After rolling over a depleted Dallas D for a team-record 250 rushing yards last December, the Bucs needed 33 carries to get just 71 yards on the day. RB Warrick Dunn had 56 of those yards on 22 carries.
Still, the Bucs had three drives of 13 or more plays, of which it got just 10 points, and held the ball for over 36 and a half minutes out of 60, so could have reasonably expected a greater output on the scoreboard.
As it turned out, 10 was all the team needed, however, as the Bucs' defense predictably stifled the rookie Carter, despite a glimpse of his electrifying talent early in the game.
After the Bucs took nearly half of the first quarter to drive down for Martin Gramatica's 39-yard field goal, Dallas got right back into the game with a 77-yard kickoff return by WR Reggie Swinton on the resulting kick.
Three fine tackles kept that play from turning into seven points, and the resulting four-point swing eventually made the difference.
First, CB Ronde Barber chased down Swinton on the left sideline, slowing him down enough for LB Alshermond Singleton to catch him at the Bucs' 17. Carter then flashed his running talent by escaping a sack on the right side and reversing field, running the ball all the way down to the Bucs' three.
Two plays later, Carter faked a handoff to RB Emmitt Smith and tried to take it in himself on the much-anticipated option, but DE Steve White dragged him down inches short of the goal line. Carter gave it to Smith on third-and-goal and the Hall-of-Famer to be swept quickly right and found himself in a one-on-one with CB Brian Kelly. Kelly was up to the task, getting a hold of Smith and throwing him down at the four.
Tim Seder then tied the game at 3-3 with a 22-yard field goal.
Neither team scored again in the first half, but the Cowboys took their opening drive of the second half 41 yards upfield for a go-ahead field goal of 46 yards by Seder. That was the last score before Johnson's game-winning plunge.
Carter was held to nine completions for 34 yards by the Bucs' defense. After losing six yards on five carries in the first half, Smith rebounded to finish with 40 yards on 13 carries by the game's end, and Dallas actually recorded 96 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Bucs punter Mark Royals, in just his second game back after a month-long absence due to a knee injury, was excellent, hitting all four of his punts solidly and averaging 42.3 yards per kick. Punts of 46 and 42 yards in the fourth quarter were instrumental in keeping Dallas away from the Bucs' end zone.
During the game, Buccaneers.com provided quarter-by-quarter descriptions of the action from Texas Stadium. Those reports follow to give a closer look at how the Bucs prevailed in their season opener.
Quarter One Highlights