Chasing mobile quarterbacks has become a weekly challenge for DE Simeon Rice and the Bucs' defense
A lot can happen in one quarter. Just ask the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans, who combined for 25 fourth-quarter points in Adelphia Coliseum on Sunday after netting 31 through the first three periods combined.
Perhaps the Buccaneers' entire 2001 season will mirror that pattern – it certainly wouldn't be the first time – because the just-completed first quarter of the season has failed to provide any concrete results. Those looking to print playoff tickets have to agree with those wanting to clear out space on the bandwagon – it's too early to tell.
Or, as Head Coach Tony Dungy put it on Monday:
"Two and two. Right at .500, which is not good enough."
That pretty much sums it up.
So, instead, let's take a closer look at the fallout from Sunday's contest. In particular, the Bucs left Tennessee with the usual assortment of bumps and bruises. Who got the worst of it?
"We've got some guys banged up a little bit," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "(Linebacker) Jeff Gooch looks like he's going to be the worst off. He's got a shoulder separation and it's probably going to be two to three weeks. (Safety) Dexter Jackson has a severe thigh bruise and may not be able to practice much this week. We've got some other guys kind of banged up, but those are the two that are probably the worst for the wear right now."
Jackson missed much of Sunday's game after incurring his injury in the first half, leaving the free safety position to rookie John Howell. Howell will see a lot of action with the first team in practice this week, as well, but may not have to make his first NFL start on Sunday against Pittsburgh.
"It's hard to say," said Dungy. "(Head Trainer) Todd (Toriscelli)'s guess now is that he should be able to play but may not be able to practice much. We'll have to see how that goes as the week goes on."
So you can add a Dexter Watch to the scrutiny over the sprained feet of Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, which began last week. Both Brooks and Dunn played at or near full speed in Tennessee and neither sustained any further damage to their aching extremities, but they will remain on the injury report this week.
"Warrick came through okay," said Dungy of Dunn, who missed the Green Bay game on October 7 but came back quicker than originally expected. "He's a little sore today but didn't get re-injured."
Others who suffered injuries at Tennessee and may miss practice time but are expected to play against Pittsburgh include RB Aaron Stecker (knee), DT Warren Sapp (foot), LB Shelton Quarles (shoulder) and WR Jacquez Green (groin).
For most of Sunday's game, Tennessee QB Steve McNair out-rushed his Pro Bowl backfield mate, RB Eddie George, before George racked up 45 yards on one fourth-quarter drive. McNair finished with 54 yards on nine carries, including one 22-yard scramble near the end of the first half that set up a last-second field goal.
McNair was even more damaging to the Bucs when he scrambled and then threw downfield. The sight of the 6-2, 225-pound passer escaping what appeared to be a sure sack and picking up positive yardage was painfully familiar to the Bucs, and not just because McNair did it on several occasions Sunday. The Bucs have played four games in 2001 and have seemingly spent most of the time futilely chasing mobile quarterbacks like Daunte Culpepper, Brett Favre and Quincy Carter.
While appreciating the talents of these passers, Dungy has been a bit surprised at how consistently the Bucs have struggled to contain them.
"Usually that's been our forte and we've played mobile quarterbacks in the past and played them pretty well," he said. "If you're in man-to-man coverage you have to basically stay with your man and use the defensive line to chase him down. If your man is blocking one of the defensive line then you get an extra guy to come in and help. We had that case a couple of times (at Tennessee) and we didn't come up fast enough."
The Bucs also had McNair in their arms a few times only to see him duck and twist away from the tackle.
"Tackling has been a problem in several situations," said Dungy of the Bucs' defense. "It's not necessarily that the guy doesn't get down. It's how you tackle him, the angle you're coming from and using your help to knock the guys back. We've had it in spurts and at certain times, but in big situations we've missed some that we normally don't miss."
Opposing passers have recorded 80 of the 400 rushing yards the Bucs have surrendered, and two of the three rushing touchdowns against Tampa Bay. They've also managed to render the Bucs' star-studded defensive line relatively sack-free. Tampa Bay has six sacks through four games; it had 19 at this same point last year.
"We've played some mobile quarterbacks and we've had guys running around and fairly good pressure," said Dungy. "Our pressure yesterday wasn't as good as the last three games. We've had good pressure and I think the quarterbacks will start to go down if we keep that up."
Go For It?
After TE Dave Moore caught the second of two fourth quarter touchdowns for the Buccaneers in a stunning, 14-point comeback on Sunday, the Bucs had pulled within one of the Titans, 28-27. A simple extra point would tie the game with 58 seconds to play in regulation, but there was also the option of attempting a two-point conversion and basically deciding the game at that point.
The Bucs lined up immediately for the kick and sent the game into overtime. If that gave you the impression that the two-pointer was never even considered, think again.
"There was a thought, yeah," admitted Dungy. "There was a thought, but we felt like we had the momentum, we had scored the last 14 points. We felt pretty good about where we were. But, yes, it's always a thought. We discussed it and we had some pretty good two-point plays that we liked, but we thought it was best to go that route."
The Bucs, of course, eventually lost in overtime, but either way the game was destined to go down to the wire, as all four of Tampa Bay's contests have this year. That is not even remotely surprising to Dungy.
"That's the way a lot of games are in the NFL and to win those games, you have to play good ball every play," he said.
As if to validate that thought the NFL played almost nothing but close games on Sunday. Only two of the 13 games played on October 14 were decided by more than seven points. Five were decided by three points or less. Three went into overtime.
"You can't afford a letdown here or there and that's the way it is in the NFL," said Dungy.