DE Simeon Rice was sufficiently impressed with Dallas QB Quincy Carter
Were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 10-6 victory over Dallas a piece of fiction, susceptible to editing, one could easily find a half-dozen turning points. Take the script, switch the outcome of a single play here or there, and you might flip the final result.
What was the most critical play in the game, the one that, if turned against the Bucs, might have prevented victory or at least sent the game into overtime? There are some obvious possibilities.
Brad Johnson's 25-yard pass to Jacquez Green on third-and-13 to preserve the game-winning drive. Keyshawn Johnson holding on to a 19-yard third down pass despite a vicious hit from Mario Edwards. The roughing-the-passer penalty on Dallas S Darren Woodson. All decent choices
But Warren Sapp has an emphatic vote, and we're inclined to agree. Listen in.
"Brian Kelly's tackle was the play of the game," said Sapp. "He deserves the game ball. If they score that touchdown there and Emmitt gets going, it's a different game."
'There' was the Buccaneers' one yard line and 'Emmitt' is superb Cowboys back Emmitt Smith. The scenario: after a 77-yard kickoff return and a fancy, 17-yard scramble by QB Quincy Carter, the Cowboys had a first down at the Bucs' three. Smith got the ball down to the one with a run up the middle, then Buc DE Steve White stopped Carter on a run for no gain.
On third down, Carter handed off to Smith, who quickly bounced his carry to the outside and found only one Tampa Bay defender between himself and the goal line: Brian Kelly. The Buc cornerback squared up with Smith at the two, kept his balance as the Cowboys back juked right and left, then grabbed Smith and whirled him around. By the time Smith stumbled around Kelly near the sideline, help had arrived in the persons of John Lynch and Jamie Duncan. The Cowboys ended up with a field goal, not a touchdown, a four-point difference that looked mighty big when the game ended in that 10-6 final.
Sapp's reaction in the postgame locker room was as spontaneous as always, though he repeated the sentiments later on the team's bus. Below, more Buccaneers discuss the key plays and elements in Sunday's win.
QB Brad Johnson on the Dallas defense:
"We knew exactly what we were facing today. They played a lot of soft zones and didn't give up any big plays. Obviously, we did not score a lot of points, but I'm happy with what we accomplished today. We got the road win and that is the important thing. After today, there will be a 14 undefeated teams and 14 teams feeling sorry for themselves."
RB Warrick Dunn, with a slightly different perspective on the narrow win:
"That was too close for comfort. We made a lot of mistakes offensively – my fumble, the interception. It was frustrating because we didn't take advantage of our opportunities.
"I feel that we are making strides offensively, but we have to eliminate the mistakes. The important thing today is that we did not get down when things didn't go our way. We just kept fighting and tried to put some drives together."
WR Keyshawn Johnson on leaving the field for a few minutes after his 19-yard catch in the first quarter:
"I got hit in the thigh and it's bruised. I wasn't at full speed because of the hit, but I felt it was important to stay in the game. I had some good catches, but I couldn't run once I caught the ball. Once I started, I couldn't stop. Once I stopped, I couldn't get started."
NOTE: Johnson's thigh bruise, which is not considered too serious, was the only injury of note reported by the Bucs' training department after Sunday's game. That was certainly a welcome change from last weekend, when several significant injuries made it difficult for the Bucs to fashion a 53-man roster. Head Coach Tony Dungy will further address the injury situation on Monday afternoon.
CB Ronde Barber on a tight win over the underdog Cowboys:
"Look at our games last year at Chicago and Minnesota – it's hard to win on the road. We've just got to step up to the challenge."
S John Lynch, agreeing with Barber:
"I've been in this league long enough to know road wins are hard to come by. Typically, they come down to the end. This is a good one to build on. We got by on the skin of our teeth."
Sapp on Carter:
"The kid's got enough poise and confidence to get it done out there. It's not a very envious task to come in with two minutes left in the fourth quarter and have to win it. I say let him play. He's going to be a good one…he's going to be special. The young fellow was strong enough to pull away from us a few times out there."
DE Simeon Rice with more on Carter:
"He's going to be a good one. He has all the ability in the world. They need to open it up for him a bit. They kind of played into our hands.
Sapp on the good work of the Bucs' offense:
"The first drive went six minutes and we had another at the end of the third quarter that went into the fourth. It really allowed our defense to get some rest. They made it interesting in the end, though. We've just got to finish off our drives and score some points."
Lynch on the Cowboys' effective defense:
"The Cowboys are playing our defense out there. They were playing our schemes and it was kind of like watching our defense out there."
Brad Johnson with the final word:
"There are going to be bad times, times like the second quarter when we couldn't get any first downs. But we just have to keep fighting and eliminate our mistakes. We've got to turn the negatives into positives to get through the tough stretches."