RB Warrick Dunn has found a rhythm with his offensive linemen
By Vic Carucci, NFL Insider for NFL.com
St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk was the one who made history Monday night. He was also the one that, in the Tampa Bay dressing room, was described by Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp as "the best back in the game."
But Warrick Dunn was the back of the hour. He was the one who rushed for a game-high 145 yards on 22 carries and catapulted himself over the goal line from the 1 with 48 seconds left to give the Buccaneers their playoff-berth-clinching, 38-35 victory over the Rams.
Faulk scored four touchdowns (three rushing and one receiving) and made history by becoming the first NFL player to do so three times in a season. Dunn had three touchdowns, but made the more dramatic plays. One was a 52-yard score on a lateral from quarterback Shaun King that gave the Buccaneers a 31-21 lead at the end of three quarters.
Then, as he was about to be tackled after catching a swing pass, Dunn pitched a lateral back to King, who ran 15 yards to keep the winning drive alive with under two minutes on the clock. Rams linebacker Mike Jones gave the Bucs an additional 15 yards on the play when he was penalized for hitting King out of bounds.
"The little fellow's just special," Sapp said of the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Dunn. "He's always been special for us, and he was special one more time for us tonight. He did a great job of punching it in when we really needed it.
"We almost gave the game away (by allowing a 72-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Torry Holt that gave the Rams a 35-31 lead with 5:18 remaining). For Warrick to get that pitch and see the crack and to get in that end zone, we knew we had ourselves a win."
Afterward, Dunn took time to speak in detail about his performance in the Buccaneers' victory:
Can you replay your lateral to Shaun King?
"It was a swing pass. All day long, that pass has been there. For some reason, the (defensive) end (Kevin Carter) actually fell off and those guys blitzed. I caught it and he just grabbed me. I spun around a little bit. Shaun just started screaming my name. I didn't even second-guess to pitch the football. I pitched it and Shaun did the rest. He made the run to get the first down."
Have you ever been involved in a play like that in organized football?
"That's sandlot football. You can't draw those plays up. Those things just happen, and tonight, I think, all 53 guys were making plays. Guys were playing with their hearts. They played their butts off, and we played as a team. In games (earlier this season), we haven't done the right things, we haven't played as a team. But these last few weeks, in these wins, it has become (a case where) 53 guys have gone out there and fought their butts off for 60 minutes."
What did that lateral play mean to that drive, to this game, to the whole season at large?
"That play helped us win the football game. It kept the drive alive. Guys just started gaining momentum. Guys started making plays downfield. Guys just stepped up."
Would you describe your winning 1-yard touchdown dive? When you left your feet, did you know you were in?
"You know what? I don't ever leave my feet. I would never ever dive, but instincts just took over. I was surprised with the call (with 53 seconds left) because we didn't have any timeouts. But we were on the goal line. I just read (the blockers), just tried to get in and sacrifice my body. The main thing was just protecting the football."
How much do you think it helped Shaun King to be allowed to throw deep and open some things up?
Today we took some shots. We came out the second series and just threw a bomb and got it picked off. But we were just letting those guys know that we were going to take shots down the field. I think that sent a message to those guys. As a team, we knew that we did have to come out and run the football, try to control the line of scrimmage, and help our defense. And you can't give enough credit to (the Buccaneers' offensive line). Those guys were blitzing us all day long, and the offensive line was doing a good job of picking those guys up and giving Shaun time to make the reads and he was making accurate throws."
Can you talk about the big night you had running the ball? Did you know, going in, you were going to have that kind of success?
"Each week, you never know the type of success you're going to have. But it was just a matter of getting into the flow of the game, reading. I thought I was setting guys up a little bit better later in the game, and that's when the runs game. The offensive line did what they had to do to make the holes, and it was just a matter of running."
With Mike Alstott back in the lineup after being injured, did you wonder if you were going to get as many carries as you did?
I had no idea. All I know, when my number is called, you have to make a play - try to make plays. I think (the offensive linemen) are comfortable with me. Right now, I'm in a rhythm. I'm comfortable. I think the confidence is there, and I think those guys have confidence in me. When you're comfortable, you can see things developing, you can see things happening. There's more communication between myself and the line, telling them, `If you do this, I'll do this.' And I was helping guys out. I was trying to set those guys' blocks up. If Mike wouldn't have gotten hurt, I probably wouldn't have been in a rhythm, and those guys had to rely on me. They had to give me an opportunity, and when you have the opportunity, I just took advantage of it. I just tried to do my thing and have fun."
Would you describe your 52-yard touchdown run in the third quarter?
Actually, it was a lateral. Before the play,
Truth,' (wide receiver) Karl Williams, asked me,How do you want me to block my guy?' I said, `Just block him and I'll read it.' He tried to knock the guy out, and after that, it was history."
How satisfying is it to not only clinch a playoff spot, but avenge the loss in last year's NFC Championship Game and also almost knock them out of the playoffs?
"The main thing is to protect your home turf. We have to win at home. If we win at home - and this game was big because of Monday night. You had the history from last year, and guys thought about that. But I think guys had the mindset from the start of the game that we had to go out and play `A' football to win this game."
Is there a lesson to be learned from this team and what you've been through, going from 3-4 to being in a position where you could possibly win the division?
"Never count us out, never count us out. Even though you hit a slide, if we hit our stride, anything is possible. And these last few weeks, we've hit our stride. Everybody's starting to step up at the right time and play great football."