RB Warrick Dunn scored two touchdowns and the Bucs made a startling fourth-quarter comeback, but Tennessee won it in overtime, 31-28
Just when did the National Football League become overrun by quick-footed quarterbacks?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must be wondering something along these lines as yet another super scrambler – this time Tennessee's Steve McNair – used his elusiveness to render a stunning Buc comeback incomplete.
Joe Nedney, given a second chance to win the game after missing a 47-yarder late in the fourth quarter that would have put it out of reach, kicked a 49-yarder 2:38 into overtime for a 31-28 Tennessee win.
The loss drops Tampa Bay to 2-2, gives them their seventh loss in their last 10 October games and will almost certainly drop the Bucs' proud defensive unit several notches down the NFL rankings.
The Buccaneers had scored two touchdowns in the last 5:09 to force the game into an extra period. QB Brad Johnson, who made up for a non-existent Bucs running game by completing 24 of 50 passes for 287 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, finished drives of 80 and 62 yards with short touchdown throws to Jacquez Green and Dave Moore.
The clutch performance of the Bucs' offense, whose four scoring drives covered an average distance of 79.5 yards, threatened to rewrite what was the obvious game story for the first three-and-a-half quarters. In the end, however, it was McNair's improvisational skills that put the Bucs into the hole from which they couldn't quite climb.
By ducking out of or running away from one potential sack after another, McNair was able to buy time and post big gains downfield against the Bucs' usually stifling defense. McNair, who had struggled earlier in the season with a shoulder injury, completed 15 of 23 passes for 230 yards, one touchdown and one interception and ran nine times for 54 yards and another score.
Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper improvised with similarly unpleasant results two weeks ago, but mostly piled up his yardage on check downs. McNair chose some underneath passes as well, most notably to rejuvenated RB Eddie George, but also used the extra time to throw deep passes over the middle, a la Brett Favre, or to scramble for big chunks of yardage, a la Quincy Carter and Culpepper.
The results were a continuation of easily the most troubling statistic facing the Buccaneers: opponent third-down conversions. Tampa Bay came into Sunday's game last in the league in that category, allowing 50% of third downs to be converted, and were stung by Tennessee at exactly that rate: eight of 16. That helped Tennessee put up 365 yards of total offense to the Bucs' 306.
Tennessee also finished the game as the most balanced team, out-rushing Tampa Bay 142-24. Though the Bucs stuffed RB Eddie George for most of the first three quarters – he had just 33 yards on 15 carries heading into the fourth period – the Pro Bowl runner gained 45 yards on a 50-yard Tennessee drive in the fourth quarter that made the score 28-14.
The Bucs lost despite, for the second week in a row, putting together the longest offensive drive in team history. Against the Packers, the game-winning march covered 95 yards in the fourth quarter, breaking a 17-year-old mark. This week, it was a 97-yard drive that ended in Warrick Dunn's 26-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
The drive was improbably kept alive early by a Tennessee offsides penalty on a punt on fourth-and-four, but it gained most of its ground on receptions of 21 and 32 yards by Keyshawn Johnson. Johnson ended the game with 140 yards on eight receptions and now has 31 catches for 389 yards on the season. Though he had none of the Bucs' three touchdown catches, Johnson caught three passes for 57 yards on the drive that briefly tied the game.
Actually, the Bucs first touchdown also came courtesy of a Tennessee special teams miscue. A 79-yard jaunt in the second quarter stalled at Tennessee's nine but gained new life when the Titans were offsides on a field goal attempt. The penalty gave the Bucs just enough yardage for a first down at the five and Dunn scampered around right end on the next play for the game-tying score. The drive was set up by Derrick Brooks' second interception of the season and the 11th of his career, making him the most prolific interceptor among linebackers in Bucs history.
The touchdown that made the score 28-21 with five minutes to go was built mostly on four receptions by Dunn for 31 yards but also was kept alive by a pass interference penalty drawn by Keyshawn Johnson on fourth-and-seven.
Tennessee took a 17-7 lead into halftime thanks in part to a well-timed special teams play. After a short pass put the ball at the Bucs' 26 with 13 seconds left in the second quarter and the clock ticking, Nedney and the Titans' kick team hustled onto the field and barely got off a 44-yard field goal as time expired.
The game marks the second time this season that the Bucs have been the victims of an opponents' first victory, as the Titans came into the game 0-3. An 0-2 Minnesota Vikings squad downed the Bucs, 20-16, on September 30. Strangely, the Bucs' two wins have come against teams without defeats, namely the 3-0 Green Bay Packers and, of course, the Dallas Cowboys in Week One.
Buccaneers.com provided reports of the action at the end of each quarter during the game, complete with descriptions of all of the key plays. Those reports follow to offer a closer look at all of the action.
First Quarter Report