Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Les IS More

The Bucs’ offense shows startling creativity in a 21-16 win that almost slipped away

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Tampa Bay's swarming defense nearly buried QB Drew Bledsoe

What do you like? Reverses? Misdirections? Trick plays? Guards in the backfield, fake spikes, play-action by the truckload?

You want it, we got it.

Les Steckel, in his first year, and on Sunday his first game, as the Bucs' offensive coordinator, threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the New England Patriots in a 21-16. It was enough to overcome some glaringly bad errors, particularly on special teams. And it was the perfect complement to a Buccaneer defense that looks, excuse the cliché, like it's in midseason form.

The game actually started rather poorly for the Bucs when WR Karl Williams, just crowned the kickoff returner, fumbled the opening kick, leading to a 30-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. The Patriots' other score also was the result of a kicking mistake, as WR Troy Brown took a second quarter Mark Royals punt 66 yards the other way for a score. It also nearly ended badly when the Patriots rallied in the fourth quarter and took the game down to its final second.

Still, Tampa Bay waltzed into the locker room with a 14-10 lead thanks to two impressive drives, each with Steckel's signature all over them.

To start the second period, the Bucs moved 80 yards for a touchdown, something they did only twice in all of 1999. The key play was a 27-yard pass to WR Keyshawn Johnson, who cut across the middle and was wide open thanks to a perfect play-action fake. FB Mike Alstott scored his 35th career touchdown three plays later when he took a third-and-three handoff at the five, danced right away from would-be tacklers and walked in for his first score of 2000.

Earlier in that drive, Pro Bowl G Randall McDaniel helped Alstott convert a short third down when he stepped into the backfield to become the lead blocker.

Leading 7-3, the Bucs defense quickly squelched New England's comeback hopes, but the Patriots regained the lead anyway on Brown's runback, the first scoring return of his career. After another Bucs' drive stalled at the Patriots' 37, a Mark Royals punt pinned New England at its own eight. The Bucs' D once again stood tall, and got the Bucs the ball back at midfield with 1:38 remaining in the half.

Tampa Bay's offense capitalized on that opportunity, marching 50 yards on just four plays. CB Antonio Langham tried to jump a quick third-down slant pass to WR Jacquez Green, but Green caught King's throw and spun away from Langham to gain 33 yards down to the Patriots' eight. As the clock ticked down towards 30 seconds, King got his offense together and appeared to call for a spike to stop the countdown. Instead, King straightened up and threw a perfect fade pass to WR Reidel Anthony against a stunned Patriots defense.

The Bucs added a little insurance in the third quarter in a more traditional way, with a Tampa Bay turnover leading to another Alstott score. LB Derrick Brooks forced RB Kevin Faulk to fumble and S John Lynch ran it back to the Patriots' 24. Four plays later, Alstott's scoring run looked like an instant replay of his first.

The Buccaneers' defense was practically immoveable most of the day. Six sacks and unrelenting pressure were the key elements in an effort that held New England to 278 yards and one offensive touchdown, with most of that coming in the fourth quarter. The Patriots converted just four of 17 third downs and starting RB Kevin Faulk was bottled up for just 21 yards on 10 carries.

However, Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe admirably absorbed all of the abuse and stood tall in the final period, when he nearly rallied his team to victory. Bledsoe started with a 39-yard TD pass to WR Terry Glenn with just over three minutes remaining. Then, after an impressive New England defensive stand that included its first sack of King all day, the Patriots drove within 22 yards of the Bucs' end zone. However, with just one second left on the clock, Bledsoe's desperation pass to WR Terry Glenn on the right sideline was out of reach.

It was, all in all, an impressive, if frightening, opening day for the Buccaneers. Buccaneers.com was on hand to chronicle every play, posting updates after every quarter. Those wrapups follow.

First Quarter

Several key mistakes made the Bucs' first period of action less than stellar, but the team finished the first quarter in New England down just 3-0 and moving the ball when the gun sounded.

Reversing a preseason 'trend', the Buccaneers won the opening toss at 1:03 p.m. and elected to receive. That can hardly be considered a stroke of good luck, considering the result. WR Karl Williams took Adam Vinatieri's kick two yards deep and returned it nicely to the Patriots' 28. However, S Larry Whigham forced Williams to fumble and CB Kato Serwanga recovered.

New England's First Drive

Thus, the Patriots took the ball first and tried a Kevin Faulk run up the middle on first down. Faulk was stopped for a gain of just two, then picked up four yards on the next play, which also went up the middle. After the Bucs called a timeout, QB Drew Bledsoe found WR Terry Glenn on a six-yard out to gain a first down at the Bucs' 16.

On first down, blanket coverage downfield caused Bledsoe to hold the ball a long time before throwing it away under pressure from DT Anthony McFarland. The Bucs kept the receivers under wraps on second down as well, forcing Bledsoe to scramble right and pick up four yards before CB Ronde Barber flipped him with a leg tackle. This time, the Bucs stopped New England on third down when a blitz by LB Shelton Quarles forced a wild pass. The Patriots settled for a 30-yard field goal by Vinatieri. New England 3, Tampa Bay 0.

Tampa Bay's First Drive

Williams got the Bucs off to a better start the second time around, taking Vinatieri's kick at the goal line and returning it to the Bucs' 33.

RB Warrick Dunn got the handoff on first down and cut back behind the right guard to pick up three yards. On second down, QB Shaun King, apparently calling an audible, handed off to FB Mike Alstott, who barreled for four more yards to set up a third-and-seven. The Bucs' first third-down attempt of was unsuccessful but close, as King threw under heavy pressure to TE Dave Moore, who nearly made a fingertip catch. Mark Royals came on to punt and hit it to the Patriots' 11. Unfortunately, WR Troy Brown found an opening on the right sideline and returned it 39 yards to midfield.

New England's Second Drive

DT Warren Sapp nearly sacked Bledsoe on first down, but Bledsoe escaped and stumbled up the middle for two yards. Faulk then tried the middle on second down and picked up another two to make it third-and-six. Shockingly, Bledsoe converted the situation himself by bootlegging straight up the middle for 10 yards.

On first down from the Bucs' 34, Barber shot in from the left edge on a blitz and sacked Bledsoe for eight yards. Faulk picked up nine yards on second down with a middle screen, but the Bucs got to Bledsoe again on third down, this time with DE Marcus Jones bullrushing from the right side for a four-yard loss. Williams fair-caught Lee Johnson's 32-yard punt at the Bucs' 10.

Tampa Bay's Second Drive

King executed a nice play-action fake on first down and tried to hit WR Jacquez Green on a quick slant, but it was broken up by Antonio Langham. Alstott got just one yard up the middle, but King stood in under a blitz on third and nine and hit Green for 34 yards and a first down. A facemask penalty tacked five yards onto it and put the ball at midfield.

King faked a handoff to Alstott again on first down and then threw left to a wide-open Keyshawn Johnson, who picked up 11 yards and moved the chains again. Yet another play-action pass went over Green's head and out of bounds on the right sideline. Johnson appeared to have a nice seam on a reverse on second down, but DE Willie McGinest made a fine tackle from behind to hold the gain to three yards. On third-and-seven, New England called a timeout just before the snap.

When play resumed, New England disrupted the Bucs' third-down try with a blitz that caused an errant throw from King. With the wind in their faces, Tampa Bay elected to punt and Royals' kick (after a false start penalty that moved the ball back to the 41), bounced into the end zone for a touchback.

New England's Third Drive

The Patriots needed just one play to swoop into Bucs' territory. WR Troy Brown took a well-designed reverse to the left side and ran 35 yards before Barber tracked him down. Faulk tried a more conventional run on the next play and lost a yard. A dumpoff pass over the middle to Faulk picked up nine yards to set up a third-and-two at the Bucs' 37. The Bucs' third sack, this one by DT Warren Sapp, saved the day again, and New England had to punt. Johnson hit this kick into the end zone, barely, for a touchback. After a replay challenge, the call stood.

Tampa Bay's Second Drive

The Bucs started at their own 20 and picked up four yards on Mike Alstott's first-down carry up the gut. King scrambled on second down when his receivers were covered and picked up another four yards to set up third-and-two. That was no problem for Alstott, who sliced off left tackle for four more. That ended the first quarter.

Second Quarter

The Bucs dominated time of possession in the second quarter and were on the final end of a seesaw scoring battle. With two touchdowns in the quarter, Tampa Bay took a 14-10 lead into halftime. The Bucs' defense was dominant, surrendering just 115 yards and allowing the Bucs to hold the ball for almost 18 of the first 30 minutes.

Tampa Bay's First Drive

On first down from the 31, RB Warrick Dunn took an angled handoff from the left side to the middle of the defense and gained three yards. He then took the opposite route second down and gained six more. For the second straight series, Mike Alstott converted a short third down with a three-yard run, rushing behind a block by G Randall McDaniel, who was lined up as a fullback. With that carry, Alstott moved past Errict Rhett (2,853) into fourth place on the Bucs' all-time rushing list.

With another set of downs to work with, Dunn started off with a sweep to the right side. He was caught from behind after gaining four yards. With the run becoming well-established, the Bucs then went back to the play-action with spectacular effects. A fake to Dunn left Shaun King alone in the backfield, and he easily found WR Keyshawn Johnson cutting across the middle for a 27-yard gain. When Tebucky Jones threw Johnson down well out of bounds, another 13 yards were tacked on by penalty, bringing the ball down to the Patriots' 12.

The Bucs tried a little more misdirection from the 12, handing off to WR Jacquez Green, who appeared to just be in motion, then faking to Dunn. By the time, New England sorted it out, Green had gained six yards down to the six. Alstott picked up one more yard, setting up a third-and-three at the five. Alstott got the call again and delivered, starting up the middle before dancing to the right, jumping over one tackle and waltzing into the end zone. Tampa Bay 7, New England 3.

New England's First Drive

The Patriots' return game struck again when RB Kevin Faulk took Martin Gramatica's first kickoff of the season from the goal line to the Patriots' 46. LB Don Davis got Faulk from behind to prevent a touchdown.

The Bucs' defense defused the situation again, however. DE Steve White got to Bledsoe in a hurry for a two-yard sack on first down, and Faulk zipped up the middle for four yards on second down. Bledsoe tried a short pass to Faulk on third down, but LB Derrick Brooks stopped him five yards short of the first down. Lee Johnson punted to Karl Williams, who executed a fair catch at the nine.

Tampa Bay's Second Drive

Tampa Bay was unable to gain a first down. Dunn got just one yard on first down, then six more on second. A third-down out to Johnson went through the receivers hands, forcing a punt.

That's when disaster struck. Still unable to cover kicks, the Bucs got a high, 50-yard punt by Royals but couldn't stop WR Troy Brown, who gave New England the lead with a 66-yard scoring return. New England 10, Tampa Bay 7.

Tampa Bay's Third Drive

After WR Karl Williams returned the kickoff to the Bucs' 41, Tampa Bay's next drive began auspiciously, with Alstott taking a pass at the line of scrimmage and going around right end for six yards. Dunn took the next handoff well into New England territory, but the play was called back by holding. On the resulting second-and-14, King tried a draw play to Dunn but the back was smothered by a gang of Patriots at the 30 for a loss of five.

Amazingly, King converted. Johnson ran a long curl on the right sideline and caught King's pass right at the marker. Tampa Bay picked up 20 yards and a first down at midfield. Dunn then squirted up the middle and picked up nine yards but was hit very hard at the end and remained on the field. Replay showed a tough helmet-to-helmet blow by S Lawyer Milloy.

Alstott bashed up the middle for two yards to pick up another first down. Going with no huddle, the Bucs handed off again to Alstott and he picked up two more. A play-action pass failed to find a receiver this time, setting up a third-and-eight, and Tampa Bay called a timeout. After the pause, a deep pass attempt was incomplete and Royals punted the ball down to the eight.

New England's Second Drive

Faulk tested the middle on first down but was stonewalled by DE Marcus Jones, losing one yard. A second-down Pats pass under pressure picked up just three more and brought the game to the two-minute warning. After the break, on third-and-eight from their own 10, the Patriots managed to get a pass off under heavy pressure but picked up just four yards on a Faulk reception and had to punt

Tampa Bay's Fourth Drive

Williams took Johnson's punt at the Bucs' 39, started left, then reversed field to the right side and got 11 yards exactly to midfield again. That left the Bucs with 98 seconds to try and tie or take the lead before halftime.

A dumpoff to RB Rabih Abdullah got only three yards and a quick flip to TE Dave Moore got six more. On third-and-one, King threw a quick slant pass to WR Jacquez Green, who caught the pass with CB Antonio Langham draped on him, then spun away and ran all the way to the Patriots' eight. With the clock ticking down near 30 seconds, King called for and faked a clock-stopping spike, but then straightened up and surprised New England with a touchdown fade pass to WR Reidel Anthony. Tampa Bay 14, New England 10.

New England's Third Drive

Bledsoe stood long in the pocket on first down from the Patriots' 25 and found Brown for 26 yards and a first down just over midfield. With 16 seconds left, a dumpoff to Faulk picked up 12 yards to the Bucs' 37. That set up Adam Vinatieri for a 55-yard field goal attempt, but it fell just short.

Third Quarter

Tampa Bay's defense remained nearly impenetrable in the third quarter and the Bucs' offense turned a John Lynch turnover into seven points. The Bucs thus took a 21-10 lead into the final period.

New England's First Drive

Martin Gramatica's second-half opening kick went out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. New England went to the air, throwing a short pass to RB Kevin Faulk for two yards and finding TE Todd Rutledge for four more on second down. QB Drew Bledsoe converted the third down with a seven-yard out to game standout Troy Brown.

However, New England would not gain another first down. After Faulk ran twice for a total of seven yards, Bledsoe tried another sneak up the middle but had less success than on his first try, stopping after a one-yard gain.

Tampa Bay's First Drive

After Lee Johnson's punt pushed the Bucs back to their own 16, FB Mike Alstott got Tampa Bay moving in the right direction with a 12-yard steamroll up the middle. The next play fell apart under quick pressure, but QB Shaun King was able to scramble up the middle for three yards. After an offsides penalty gave the Bucs a second-and-two, Alstott bashed up the middle again for six yards to the Bucs' 42.

The drive went no further. King tried a fly down the right sideline to Jacquez Green but it was well-covered and overthrown. His second-down pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage and his third-down offering was just off WR Reidel Anthony's fingertips. Mark Royals punted down to the Pats' 20.

New England's Second Drive

Bledsoe almost went down on first down but was able to throw incomplete while under wraps. Faulk picked up seven yards on a second-yard slasher over the middle, but Bledsoe was again buried on third down and couldn't find a receiver. Johnson hit another boomer that Karl Williams fair caught at the Bucs' 33.

Tampa Bay's Second Drive

RB Warrick Dunn was tripped up trying to sweep right on first down, losing one yard. He nearly broke a long one on the next play but was stopped after gaining just three yards. On third-and-eight, King threw out of bounds and incomplete in the face of a strong blitz. Mark Royals hung the resulting punt high and dangerous return man Troy Brown was stopped at the 21 after picking up just two yards.

New England's Third Drive

Tampa Bay defused everything New England tried to do on this possession. Bledsoe rolled right on first down but quickly had to throw it away as two rushers sandwiched him. On second down, a tricky end-around exploded when the Bucs wouldn't let Troy Brown turn the corner. On third-and-12, Bledsoe dumped it off to Faulk, and LB Derrick Brooks not only stopped Faulk short but also popped the ball loose. S John Lynch scooped it up and returned it eight yards to the Patriots' 24.

Tampa Bay's Third Drive

The Bucs' first takeaway of 2000 quickly turned into a score. Nearly sacked on first down, King escaped several rushers to dart up the middle for 10 yards to the 14. On the next snap, Alstott went up the middle for eight yards, avoiding disaster when he recovered his own fumble. After an out pass to WR Keyshawn Johnson earned another first down at the three, Alstott took another handoff up the middle, again danced to the outside and again scored untouched. Tampa Bay 21, New England 10.

New England's Fourth Drive

Starting at their own 25, the Patriots started with an incompletion, but Bledsoe picked up seven yards on a scramble and FB Tony Carter picked up four more and a first down on the next snap. Bledsoe fumbled the snap on the next play, losing two yards, but got seven back with another pass to Faulk. On third down, Bledsoe threw incomplete. Johnson punted down to the Bucs' 18, where Williams was caught without gaining a yard.

Tampa Bay's Fourth Drive

A screen pass to Dunn picked up five yards and ended the third quarter.

Fourth Quarter

A game that appeared to be 'in the books' for Tampa Bay almost slipped away at the last minute. However, when Drew Bledsoe's fourth-down pass from the 22-yard line with one second remaining fell incomplete, the Bucs had a 21-16 win.

Tampa Bay's First Drive

The Bucs started the fourth period with a second-and-five at their own 23, and quickly picked up a first down when RB Warrick Dunn swept around the left side for seven yards. Dunn picked up four more going right on first down, then another three up the middle. On third-and-three, QB Shaun King tried to pass over the middle but had the ball batted down at the line. Royals punt bounced out of bounds at the Patriots' 33.

New England's First Drive

The Patriots started off in the wrong direction. LB Shelton Quarles wrapped QB Drew Bledsoe up for a four-yard sack, and DT Warren Sapp busted immediately through the line on second down to catch RB Kevin Faulk in the backfield for another three-yard loss. Bledsoe could find nobody open on third down and scrambled for three yards before DE Marcus Jones rode him out of bounds. Lee Johnson punted 39 yards to Williams, who fair caught it at the Bucs' 32.

Tampa Bay's Second Drive

Tampa Bay followed through with its general philosophy of running with a fourth quarter lead, and Dunn got it started on this drive with a nine-yard cutback. On second down, Dunn tried the middle, but was stopped for a loss of one. G Randall McDaniel came in to play FB on third and two in front of FB Mike Alstott, but the Patriots caught Alstott from behind and prevented a first down. Royals punted again, this time to the New England 20, where it was fair caught.

New England's Second Drive

On first down from his own 20, Bledsoe escaped what could have been another sack and dumped off to Faulk for 10 yards. On the next snap, CB Brian Kelly was called for illegal contact, leading to a first down at the 35. However, a false start penalty pushed it back again and made it first and 15.

With Jones bearing down on him from the right, Bledsoe just got his pass off and found Troy Brown for six yards. A blitz on the next play had nearly the same result, a desperate pass that got nine yards from WR Tony Simmons. Bledsoe dumped it off over the middle to Faulk for three yards on the next snap, then barely escaped a Ronde Barber blitz to throw it away on second down. On third-and-seven, Bledsoe technically ran for one yard, but it was really an exercise in escaping the various Buc blitzers that shot around him. Tyoka Jackson eventually slammed him to the ground, leading to a Johnson punt that put Tampa Bay back at its own 13.

Tampa Bay's Third Drive

The Bucs opened this march with a false start penalty, then got two yards up the middle from Dunn in the face of a run blitz. On second-and-13, King quickly aborted a pass play and scrambled up the middle for four yards, setting up a third-and-nine. King threw a quick pass over the middle to Karl Williams, who tried to spin out of a tackle to get the first down but came up two yards short. New England then called a timeout, followed by a Buccaneer timeout when the team got into punt formation.

New England's Third Drive

After Royals punt, which was caught at the 29 by Troy Brown and returned 11 yards to the Patriots' 40. Bledsoe started with a quick pass to Brown on the right side, and he picked up six yards. From the shotgun on second down took his time and found TE Eric Bjornson at the Bucs' 43 on a slant-in. With a first down to work with, Bledsoe threw to Bjornson again over the middle, picking up four yards.

CB Ronde Barber nearly got Bledsoe on a blitz on second down, but he threw a bomb just before the hit and found Terry Glenn down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown. The two-point attempt failed. Tampa Bay 21, New England 16.

Tampa Bay's Fourth Drive

The Bucs started on their own 20 after a touchback on the kickoff. Alstott ran behind McDaniel to get four yards and New England called its second timeout. Alstott tried a sweep to the left on the next snap but was corralled for a loss of one and the Patriots called their last timeout. On third-and-seven, after some confusion and a Buccaneer timeout, King tried a play-action roll to his right, but DE Willie McGinest sniffed it out and caught King for an 11-yard sack back to the Bucs' 12.

New England's Fourth Drive

Royals' punt was fair caught at the Bucs' 45, leaving it up to the Tampa Bay defense with 1:53 remaining. Bledsoe started off the march with an eight-yard pass to Terry Glenn, and a two-yard pass to Faulk picked up the first down. With good coverage downfield, Jones and DT Warren Sapp combined for a two-yard sack. A dumpoff to Faulk picked up nine yards to the 28.

Bledsoe then hit Faulk in the flat but he ran out of bounds at the 26, a yard short of the first down. On fourth-and-one, Bledsoe rolled right and hit a falling Troy Brown for a first down. After a Bledsoe spike, it was second-and-ten from the Bucs' 22 with 14 seconds remaining.

The next play was almost sheer genius. Bledsoe rolled right, then threw back across the field for Chris Calloway in the left side of the end zone. CB Brian Kelly responded in time, jumping to break up the pass. On third down, Bledsoe was hit by a Buc rusher, throwing a floater that fell incomplete with one second left.

It all came down to one play, and the Bucs' defense was up to the challenge, disrupting a right-sideline pass to Glenn. Tampa Bay held on for a 21-16 victory.

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