QB Shaun King and FB Mike Alstott helped the Bucs spread the ball around against Chicago
When was the last time you had to delay your trips to the fridge when the Bucs' offense got the ball? Get used to it
Somewhere around 28 minutes into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 41-0 annihilation of the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the score was 6-0, Bucs. If you're a long-time Tampa Bay fans, visions of a 6-3 'shootout' were dancing in your heads. The Bucs had completely dominated Chicago for most of the first half, yet they had a lead that wouldn't stand up to one fluke touchdown.
Well, if you're a long-time Buccaneers fan, it may be time to change your way of thinking. No longer can you use a Tampa Bay offensive possession as a chance to rest your aching throat. In the span of nine and a half minutes on the game clock, the Bucs turned that slim 6-0 lead into a 34-0 canyon for the Bears to cross. It was an offensive explosion not seen much around these parts.
You've probably heard all of the breathless pronouncements about where this game stands in team annals. Fourth time the Bucs have scored over 40 points. Largest margin of victory in franchise history. Fourth shutout ever, first at home since 1985. Impressive stats, to be sure.
But try this one on for size. The last time Tampa Bay had five different players score a touchdown in the same game was a decade ago, on September 9, 1990, when the Bucs won at Detroit 38-21. On Sunday in Raymond James Stadium, Shaun King, Ronde Barber, Keyshawn Johnson, Jacquez Green and Mike Alstott pulled it off, in that order. Yes, we know that Barber's touchdown was on defense, those two units played off each other marvelously on Sunday.
"(The offense) started off slow but the defense really kept us in there early," said King, who got the Bucs in the end zone first on a bootleg. "We can't complain. Hopefully, we'll stay consistent. The offensive line gave us great protection. The receivers were doing a good job getting open. We are trying to mix it up."
Yes, that's what we're saying. There is not just prolific scoring here, there's variety. King faked a handoff to Dunn on his scoring play before darting to the right corner of the end zone on third-and-three. It was the perfect call against a defense that expected Tampa Bay to pound at the middle with its terrific running back combo.
Johnson got his first touchdown as a Buccaneer on a play of the type rarely enacted in pewter and red. Lined up in the slot, Johnson simply ran at the defender (Thomas Smith) gave him a quick juke inside then went around him straight to the end zone. Smith actually recovered quite well, but King threw the ball high and on a line and the 6-4 Johnson easily outleaped Smith for the ball. On replay, it wasn't necessarily as acrobatic as it seemed in live motion, but it certainly required the type of weapon and play-calling the Bucs have lacked.
"We can hit you anytime we want to," said Johnson. "I think that was evident today."
Green was next on the offensive scoring carousel, and his touchdown was the prime example of what Tampa Bay's offensive philosophy, fashioned by Head Coach Tony Dungy and Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel, can produced when it is executed well.
With the Bucs' running game running full force (156 yards on the game, 86 at the point this play occurred), Tampa Bay went for the jugular upon gaining possession at its own 42 on a Chicago punt. King dropped back and faked a handoff to RB Warrick Dunn before straightening up and looking at the middle of the field. He then fired a pass about 20 yards downfield, straight over the middle. Green cut across the turf and caught the ball between two layers of the Bears' defense. He then ran to the left sideline and then cut up it for a 58-yard score.
"Hopefully," said Dunn, "this sends a message to teams who line up with eight-man fronts (against us)."
Or maybe not. Opening up the middle might be a bad move against Dunn and his bulldozing backfield mate, Alstott. Alstott already has three touchdowns in 2000 and he probably leads the league in average tacklers dismissed per carry. Against the Bears, the fifth-year fullback padded his already dense personal highlight reel with one bruising run after another, virtually refusing to be brought down by the first tackler.
His 20-yard touchdown run, which really was just intended to convert a third-and-one and keep the clock moving, was a vintage example of this running style. Alstott bounced off backfield invaders, juked several other defenders, slipped his feet out of leg tackles and ran straight through several Bears en route to the end zone. Of all the Bucs' touchdowns, it was the most familiar in form, but it still owes itself to the team's newfound offensive variety.
Dunn, for one, realizes what is possible with this attack. "Mike is running unbelievably," said Dunn. "He's breaking tackles. A long run is going to happen for me. Our line is doing a great job of opening holes. The long runs will come and Mike will continue to do his thing. Coach Steckel really tried to spread the ball around."
In the final analysis, that is exactly what Steckel was expected to do when he arrived in Tampa, fresh off a Super Bowl appearance with the Tennessee Titans. Steckel believes in offensive balance, predicated on a strong running game, as stridently as Dungy does, but he wants to create that balance by moving the ball around.
For a team that appears to be loaded with offensive weapons yet has struggled to be offensively consistent, that is a welcome approach. And the results, at least from Sunday, are more than welcome. They're unprecedented. They're encouraging. They just might make you change your way of thinking.