S Dexter Jackson has two interceptions through three games
Yes, Keyshawn Johnson had nine receptions and more than a few key blocks. Yes, John Lynch knocked away the potential winning pass on the last play of the game. Yes, Donnie Abraham had his 26th career interception on Brett Favre's first play of the game.
Without a doubt, the names you're used to seeing associated with Tampa Bay Buccaneer victories were important to the team's 14-10 win over Green Bay on Sunday. But this was a team victory in every sense of the word, and crucial contributions came from every corner of the Bucs' roster.
It was a case of new stars coming to light and old standouts returning to prominence. In particular, the Bucs needed every ounce of contribution they got from LB Shelton Quarles, FB Mike Alstott, S Dexter Jackson and WR Reidel Anthony.
There are five former Pro Bowlers playing on the Bucs' defense. Quarles is not one of them.
Playing a position of far less glamour than weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, and with a much subtler background than the five former first-round picks on the Bucs' starting defense, Quarles generally toils in obscurity.
The strongside 'backer, where Quarles plays, is often matched up with the opponent's tight end, either engaging him at the line of scrimmage or covering him down the field. It was on just such a play that Quarles leapt out of obscurity on Sunday afternoon.
Now it's possible that Quarles' name will be one of the most prominent in the Bucs' record book for years to come, and not just because he is the only Q-surnamed man ever to play a regular-season down for the team.
Quarles' big play was the proverbial '14-point swing, as he took what should have been a Green Bay touchdown pass and turned it into a score in the opposite end zone. Covering tight end David Martin on a crossing route, Quarles somehow got to the ball before the Packer did. It was more than he even hoped for when he made his move.
"It is a play they run in practice and I ran across and made the play," he said. "The last second I saw the ball and I just wanted to make contact so he couldn't get to it."
Quarles was covering Martin as he crossed the field from right to left. QB Brett Favre looked right first, then turned and lofted a pass in Martin's direction as the tight end ran along the goal line. Quarles, trailing Martin step for step, found an extra gear and cut in front of the intended receiver, intercepting the ball at the two. Open field lay ahead.
"I got gassed," said Quarles of his return, which took exactly 12.5 seconds but probably seemed like an eternity to the linebacker. "It took all the energy I had to keep from getting tackled. The first guy was the tight end and I switched the ball and stiff-armed him. With Ronde (Barber) running down the field with me, he could have gotten there first. I was winded."
So winded, in fact, that he dove into the end zone – from the four (check the film if you don't believe us).
Four yards in the air, 98 total – the longest scoring play in team history. Previously, the longest score was a 95-yard punt return by Jacquez Green, also against the Packers, on September 13, 1998. The longest previous interception return for a touchdown was an 82-yarder by Neal Colzie against Minnesota on September 5, 1981.
It was the first touchdown of Quarles' career, but it wasn't the end of his day. He and the Buccaneers were charged with containing the league's third-ranked offense and the 3-0 Packers. One play alone wasn't going to stop Brett Favre and the Packers.
"I did everything in my power to get a win and we did that today together," he said. "We know we are not an average defense and we had to come together to show it. We had to set the tone on how we play defense at home and I think we did that today."
Mike Alstott started again on Sunday, as usual, but with 'RB' next to his name, not 'FB.' One of the few fullbacks in the NFL who would even be considered as a replacement when his team's running back, goes down, Alstott has 3,400 rushing yards to prove that he can tote the rock as well as he can block.
Still, he has been somewhat of a forgotten man in the Bucs' offense since his knee injury last November in Chicago. While he sat out three games, running back Warrick Dunn got virtually every carry and proved he could excel as the primary runner week after week. As such, the Bucs went into 2001 planning to give almost all of the carries to the explosive Dunn.
That plan changed by necessity when Dunn suffered a sprained foot in Minnesota last Sunday. Though the Bucs have tailback substitutes in Aaron Stecker and Rabih Abdullah, it was Alstott they chose to put at running back when Dunn was out. The team's leading rusher as recently as 1999, when he had 949 yards on 242 carries, Alstott had only eight totes for 36 yards through the Bucs' first two games.
"I took my role seriously," said Alstott. "I have been in this situation before and I have the experience."
Against Green Bay, Alstott had 15 of the Bucs' 19 carries. Stecker had two and Johnson scrambled twice. For most of the game, Alstott was impressive in his usual tackle-breaking style without piling up huge numbers. Then, in the fourth quarter with the Bucs trailing 14-10, he turned in Tampa Bay's offensive play of the game.
Starting up the middle as he often does, Alstott broke one tackle at the line then darted to the left. While key blocks by receivers Johnson and Jacquez Green helped spring him, the resulting 39-yard scoring run still required the feet, speed and field vision that separate Alstott from most of the league's fullbacks.
He finished with a game-high 77 rushing yards, his best total since that '99 season. He also became just the second player in team history to reach the 40-touchdown mark, joining James Wilder (46), even if it took most of the game for the end zone to open up for him.
"I had a couple of times where I felt it was going to come out of the gates," said Alstott. "I had to be patient and let it come. When we needed a big drive, we sucked it up and the defense did their job."
Dexter Jackson is the least experienced starter on the Bucs' defense, and while he didn't replace a Pro Bowler at free safety, he did have big shoes to fill. Former starter Damien Robinson departed for the New York Jets after his six-interception 2000 season.
The read on Jackson was that he had 'big-play' potential – that is, he would hopefully bring interceptions in bunches to the Bucs' secondary.
Well, through three games, Jackson has two interceptions, and that's a pretty fine pace. Against Green Bay, the third-year safety picked off a Favre pass in the fourth quarter, one that could have been a back-breaker.
Throughout the game, the outspoken Jackson could be seen on the sideline, exhorting his defensive teammates to step up their efforts. He did it himself on the very next play from scrimmage after Alstott's touchdown. Favre tried to put the Packers right back on top on first down from Green Bay's 20, throwing a fly in WR Corey Bradford's direction, but Jackson protected against the deep ball and caught Favre's pass on the dead run towards his own end zone.
"Favre is a great quarterback and is on fire, said Jackson. "We knew he could be a difference-maker. I got fortunate enough for him to throw the ball deep down the hash line and I was able to read him and make a break on the ball and be a difference."
Like Alstott, Anthony has had his time in the offensive spotlight for the Buccaneers, particularly in 1998 when he caught 51 passes for 708 yards and seven touchdowns. The addition of Keyshawn Johnson and Jacquez Green's emergence in 1999 have put Anthony into the third receiver role, something that led to just 15 catches in 2000.
And, through the first two games of 2001, Anthony had no receptions, as Johnson and Green combined for 25.
On Sunday, however, Brad Johnson looked in Anthony's direction on several occasions, and the fifth-year veteran made him glad he did. Anthony, one of eight different players to catch a pass for the Buccaneers, made three grabs for 40 yards. All of them were big plays.
In the first quarter, on the Bucs' first drive, Anthony caught a nine-yard pass on third-and-four inside Green Bay's territory. Although Martin Gramatica eventually missed a 53-yard field goal try, Anthony's catch was the one that got the team into scoring territory.
In the second quarter, the Bucs again faced third-and-four, this time from their own 16, when Johnson found Anthony on a crossing route, picking up 15 yards.
And, finally, in the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay took off on the fateful drive from their own five. After reaching their own 32, the Bucs faced a third-and-six with just over nine minutes remaining. Johnson again looked to Anthony over the middle, and the former Florida wideout reached bag for a throw behind him to give the Bucs a first down near midfield. Three plays later, Alstott scored.
"You have to play within the offense and play your 11 better than their 11," said Anthony. "It felt good to get back into the offense and get some first downs and some balls thrown to me. Five and 10-yard chunks get us first downs, not just shots down the field."
Quarles, Alstott, Jackson, Anthony. There were other stars, of course, plenty of them. These four either grabbed the spotlight for the first time or reclaimed a part of it they hadn't seen in awhile. Every play was crucial in the Bucs' narrow win.
"We just encourage each other," said Alstott. "This team stuck together throughout 60 minutes and whoever lasts down to the wire is going to win it."