Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Not the NFC's Day

The AFC dominated this year’s Pro Bowl, but nine Buccaneers still made their collective presence felt

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Despite his sack of QB Peyton Manning, DT Warren Sapp and the NFC couldn't slow down the AFC offense

If you wondered whether your Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be visible during the 2001 Pro Bowl, it didn't take long to get your answer.

To begin this year's all-star game, Buc kicker Martin Gramatica blasted the opening kickoff five yards into the end zone. Before return man Derrick Mason of the Tennessee Titans could get out to the 20, he was tackled by Buc LB Derrick Brooks.

Unfortunately, the AFC then proceeded to drive the length of the field for a go-ahead touchdown, and rarely slowed down after that, romping 38-17. It was the second straight high-scoring Pro Bowl after the NFC prevailed 51-31 last year.

Defense may not have been the name of the game on Sunday in Oahu, but that didn't stop the Bucs' four-man defensive contingent from posting a few highlights. Though the AFC squad scored on its opening possession, the drive was nearly halted when Brooks made a strong tackle against Jets FB Richie Anderson at the NFC 28 and S John Lynch followed on the next play with a quick hit on Colts RB Edgerrin James. Lynch's tackle stopped James short of the first down, but Anderson converted a fourth-and-one with a run up the middle on the next snap.

Later, consecutive plays by Buc defenders successfully kept the AFC out of the end zone. After opening a two-touchdown lead, the AFC was on the verge of making it 21-0 in the first half when Tampa Bay CB Donnie Abraham dove to break up a touchdown pass intended for Colts WR Marvin Harrison. The AFC ran virtually the same route on the next play and Lynch cut across the middle to make his own diving bat-down, with Buc DT Warren Sapp hitting QB Peyton Manning as the pass was delivered. Sapp also helped provide pressure up the middle on third down to force the AFC into a (successful) field goal try.

At least briefly, that kept the NFC in the game, particularly after Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica nailed a 48-yard field goal into what announcers called 'tricky tradewinds' in the second quarter.

Perhaps buoyed by his own kicker's blast, Buccaneer DT Warren Sapp then short-circuited the next AFC drive with a sack of Manning on third down, beating guard Steve Wisniewski off the ball.

Despite these periodic plays, the four Bucs couldn't help slow down the AFC sufficiently, and the NFC never got closer than 14 points down for the remainder of the game. Buc RB Warrick Dunn got a significant amount of playing time in the second half as the NFC tried to rally, catching a team-high seven passes for 69 yards. The Bucs' other three offensive all-stars, FB Mike Alstott, C Jeff Christy and G Randall McDaniel, also played extensively.

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