RB Warrick Dunn had 106 combined yards in St. Louis and scored the winning touchdown on a 21-yard run
Something about the St. Louis Rams brings out the best in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Struggling along at a disappointing 4-5 for the first half of the season, the Bucs came into the Dome at America's Center on Monday night reeling, desperate and practically written off. But more than anything, they were hungry for another taste of revenge against the St. Louis Rams.
They got it.
In a game that fell somewhere between the defensively-dominated, 11-6 loss to St. Louis in the 1999 NFC Championship game and the wild, offensive shootout won last December by Tampa Bay, 38-35, the Bucs created enough turnovers and enough offense to prevail, 24-17.
This game fell right in line with the last two, however, in terms of fingernail damage. The win was not secured until the final two minutes, when FB Mike Alstott's nine-yard run from midfield effectively ran out the clock and kept the ball away from the potent Rams offense. Safety John Lynch's interception of a pass tipped by linebacker Derrick Brooks with just over two minutes remaining.
The third-largest crowd in the Dome's history (66,198) saw the Buccaneers follow perhaps the only sure plan for victory in St. Louis: turnovers and ball possession. Holding the ball for just over 35 minutes, the Bucs recovered three fumbles, intercepted two passes and blocked a punt, while Tampa Bay's offense only turned the ball over once.
That one giveaway, a rare mistake in a brilliant day for QB Brad Johnson, nearly breathed new life into the Rams. After Rabih Abdullah's block of a John Baker punt with 7:37 remaining gave the Bucs possession at the St. Louis 19, Johnson's sideline pass to TE Dave Moore was picked off by DT Brian Young.
One 37-yard reception by Torry Holt later, the Rams were just over midfield, and what could have been a two-score lead for the Buccaneers looked to be in danger of turning into a tie. However, CB Donnie Abraham jumped a slant intended for WR Isaac Bruce for third interception of the season. It was also the 28th pick of Abraham's illustrious career, tying him with Mike Washington for second place on the Bucs' all-time list, one behind Cedric Brown's record of 29.
Those turnovers helped preserve the seven point lead Tampa Bay had taken on Warrick Dunn's 21-yard touchdown run four minutes into the fourth quarter. Dunn, who finished the game with 106 combined rushing and receiving yards, appeared on replay to have stepped out of bounds at the five before diving into the pylon, but the Rams had used both of their replay challenges in the first half and were unable to make the officials take a second look.
Dunn's run capped an impressive, 90-yard touchdown drive on which the Bucs converted two third downs. Long scoring drives in the fourth quarter have been a trademark for the Tampa Bay offense this season.
The team's 68-yard drive to begin the second half might have been even more impressive, actually. Johnson threw completions on three straight third downs, two to TE Dave Moore and one to WR Jacquez Green. The seven-minute march ended on Mike Alstott's eight-yard touchdown run, on which he started left but cut inside a great block by rookie tackle Kenyatta Walker.
That touchdown was the 47th of Alstott's career, making him the Bucs' career leader in that category. He had tied the mark in the second quarter with a seven-yard run that ended a 54-yard touchdown drive. In all, the Bucs converted on seven of 16 third downs while holding the Rams to an uncharacteristic four-of-12 in that situation.
And, although the Rams outgained the Bucs, 345 to 264, in total yards, there were other uncharacteristic numbers forced by Tampa Bay's defense. QB Kurt Warner, who came into the game completing 68.9% of his passes, hit on just 19 of 39 against Tampa Bay, less than half. RB Marshall Faulk, who scored on a two-point conversion late in the third quarter to tie the game at 17-17 after a fourth-down touchdown reception by tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, was held to just 66 total yards on 12 carries and two receptions. As a result, St. Louis was held to just one touchdown for the first time since Week 13 of the 2000 season.
That defensive effort was led by the Bucs' big three of Lynch, Brooks and DT Warren Sapp. Sapp consistently beat the Rams' interior lineman, sacking Warner twice, hitting him on several other occasions and stopping Faulk in the backfield on a few other occasions. Brooks turned in a game-high 10 tackles and two passes defensed and Lynch had three tackles, the game-ending pick and two passes defensed.
Offensively, Johnson was extremely accurate, though his 21-of-34 passing day was marred somewhat by the Bucs' one shortcoming of the day, dropped passes. WR Keyshawn caught five of those passes for 57 yards and Alstott combined 34 rushing yards with 31 yards on five receptions.
With the victory, the Bucs improve to 5-5 on the season, while the Rams drop to 8-2.
During the contest, Buccaneers.com provided quarter-by-quarter reports on the action, complete with descriptions of all the big plays. Those reports follow to offer a closer look at the Bucs' big victory in St. Louis.
First Quarter Report