QB Shaun King showed off his trademark poise in picking apart the Vikings' defense
At one point during his press conference following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' loss to Detroit on October 19, second-year QB Shaun King stopped to ponder a question, eventually answering, "I don't know." Some aspects of the Buccaneers' offensive failure were just beyond explanation to King.
But King is an athlete, and athletes are fond of saying they will let their play on the field do the talking. In that vein, King provided all the answers on Sunday that he couldn't come up with the previous week.
In leading the Buccaneers to a dominating 41-13 win over the Minnesota Vikings, King had his best day as a professional and sent a message that there is nothing wrong with the Buccaneers' offense besides what Head Coach Tony Dungy has been hammering on all week: execution.
King executed brilliantly on Sunday, completing 16 of 23 passes for 267 yards and a career-best four touchdown passes. After throwing a career-worst three interceptions against Detroit, he was not picked off by the Vikings. None of his passes, in fact, came anywhere close to being picked off, besides a heave downfield on a free play after Minnesota had clearly jumped offsides in the fourth quarter.
The game was clearly in King's hands from the get-go. After DT Warren Sapp hand-delivered the ball to Tampa Bay at the Vikings' 14 with a sack and forced fumble against Viking QB Daunte Culpepper, King threw twice to get the ball into the end zone, both times to WR Keyshawn Johnson. The Bucs, in fact, managed to build a 31-13 lead at halftime despite rushing the ball just four times.
"We kind of knew how they were going to play us," said Dungy, explaining the Bucs' early reliance on the passing attack. "We felt we could do a lot of three-wide stuff, they would put Robert Griffith up in the box, they would force us to throw the ball. They played us with a lot of seven and eight-man fronts. We told the guys last night that the passing game is going to have to click for us. If it did, then we would be able to run the ball. That is pretty much what we did up there (in Minnesota). We just didn't hang onto the ball."
The Bucs did hang onto the ball on Sunday, avoiding even a single turnover. It was the fifth time in eight games this season that King has not been intercepted, but just the second time in the last two contests.
The Bucs' offensive stumbles in recent weeks had led the team to contemplate a simplification of the offense, a point that was widely misinterpreted. It was assumed that a Tampa Bay offense looking to re-establish its identity would come out and work non-stop to establish the power running game. Instead, the Bucs established the passing game first then allowed the running attack to feed off of that, to the tune of 152 yards, 89 by speedy scatback Warrick Dunn.
"Shaun King was poised," said T Jerry Wunsch. "He had a good mindset, and when he is on like that, we will be hard to beat. We let Warrick do what Warrick does. We gave him the ball and he went crazy and that's what makes our passing game look great. We talked about rushing the ball all week to the media. That's what you guys in the media are for. We gave you a bone and you ran with it."
The combination of Dunn's slashing runs and King's pinpoint passing made it difficult for the Vikings to know what was coming next. Consider the Bucs' third touchdown drive, after King had tallied his second TD pass on a 23-yard pitch to a wide-open Warrick Dunn. The third drive took just four plays:
· King fakes a handoff and drops back, firing a bullet to Johnson, who is cutting across the middle from right to left and picking up 23 yards; · King hands off to Dunn this time, and Dunn finds a gap near left tackle, through which he shoots for a 36-yard gain to the Vikings' 21; · FB Mike Alstott runs up the middle but gets just one yard; · King hangs in the pocket for an extra second then lofts a beautiful touch pass over two defenders to TE Dave Moore, who is behind the defense and heading into the end zone.
"Shaun King played well against our defense," said Minnesota Head Coach Dennis Green in summation. "He is a very good quarterback."
That is an opinion apparently shared by Johnson, who was pleased to be King's primary target for the night. Johnson turned in his first 100-yard game as a Buccaneer, snaring six passes for 121 yards, and was never more important than on third-and-11 from the Buccaneers' 48-yard line midway through the third quarter.
Tampa Bay came out of halftime with an 18-point lead, a margin that would be comfortable against most teams, but not the Vikings. King, who called that drive to open the second half the most important one of the game for the Buccaneers, had led the Bucs from their own 10-yard line almost to midfield. However, the team was trying to overcome a holding penalty and had found itself in a third-and-11. Perhaps because of the lobbying Johnson had done earlier in the week, King threw a pass his way on the left sideline despite decent coverage by CB Robert Tate.
Johnson, who had claimed that such passes were almost certain to result in either a reception or a pass interference penalty, proved himself doubly right when he caught the ball for a 35-yard gain despite pass interference on Tate. The Bucs would go on to score just three points on the drive, but they also chewed eight-and-a-half minutes off the clock doing it.
"I gave him seven weeks without saying anything," said Johnson. "Then I said, enough is enough, I have to tell him, 'We are going to do this thing together.'"
Before Sunday's game, King had never thrown more than two touchdown passes in a game, and he had found the end zone just three times in the previous five outings. His four-TD effort against the Vikings, however, tied for the second-best single-game total in team history and marked the first time since early 1997 that a Buc quarterback had found the end zone that many times.
That is also a startling turnaround from a three-interception, no-TD day against Detroit and a very encouraging note for the Buccaneers and their fans. King may not have been able to find the words he needed a week ago, but he provided all the answers anyone could want against Minnesota.