WR Reidel Anthony was one of the team's final-drive heroes, but he could easily point to others
The description reads as thus: 13 plays…80 yards…1:34…one-yard touchdown run by Warrick Dunn.
That's the official reading on Tampa Bay's game-winning touchdown drive Monday night, but we might just as well call Michelangelo's David a 17-foot hunk of marble.
We'll call it The Drive.
Okay, maybe Tampa Bay's version of The Drive will never replace John Elway's in overall NFL lore, but this single most important forward march of 2000 will be remembered fondly by Buccaneers fans for many years.
As you would suspect, it's already reserved a warm spot in the hearts of the players and coaches at One Buccaneer Place.
"I think all of those guys that were involved in that will feel something special, that they had a big part in getting us in," said Head Coach Tony Dungy.
"We probably haven't had a drive where we had to go 80 yards where it meant so much in a game like that. That's huge, beating the defending Super Bowl champs to get in the playoffs. You don't get a chance to do that very often. To go 80 yards with no time outs in two minutes…it probably hasn't been any bigger than that since I've been here."
First, the set-up. Tampa Bay and the St. Louis Rams were trading shots in an all-out offensive duel, a game that would see 10 touchdowns and seven lead changes. The Bucs had taken a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, thanks to Warrick Dunn's magnificent 52-yard tightrope run down the right sideline at the end of the third quarter. However, the Rams scored two touchdowns in the final period, including a 72-yard touchdown reception by WR Torry Holt with five minutes remaining in the game.
The Bucs were unable to advance into Rams territory on their next possession, and turned the ball over on downs. After stopping RB Marshall Faulk on three straight carries and watching the Rams punt the ball into the end zone, the Bucs had one more shot from their own 20 with 2:22 left on the clock.
Then came The Drive.
Let's take a closer look at the 13 plays that rescued the Buccaneers from a serious postseason quandary.
Play 1: Incomplete pass, intended for Dave Moore.
Maybe Michelangelo's first chisel into the marble block wasn't perfect, either. QB Shaun King took a quick drop and made an even quicker decision, firing quickly over the middle to Moore, who was covered tightly by LB Leonard Little. The Rams had come with a linebacker blitz and, perhaps worrying about the sack, King got rid of the ball right away, despite the fact that a good pocket had formed. Little knocked it away for an incompletion, although the Rams had hoped it was a fumble.
Play 2: Completion to Keyshawn Johnson for seven yards.
The Rams came with yet another linebacker blitz, but the Bucs seemed to expect it, as Johnson ran a quick curl right into the area over the middle vacated by that defender. LB Mike Jones tackled Johnson immediately and the clock hit the two-minute warning.
Play 3: Completion to Jacquez Green for eight yards.
This was the first instance in the drive in which King made a clutch play to keep the chains moving. The Rams finally called off the blitz for a snap, but the Rams still got quick pressure right up the middle with their four-man front. King took off to the right side to get away from the mess, and DT D'Marco Farr, who had started on the opposite side, cut through the crowd to get into hot pursuit.
Green cut towards the sideline with CB Dexter McCleon in tight coverage. However, the threat of King running for the first down tempted McCleon, and just as the defender left his man to come up on the quarterback, King zipped a quick pass through McCleon's hands and into those of Green. Green made sure to get both feet in bounds before stepping out and stopping the clock with 1:52 remaining. The Bucs were now at their own 35.
Play 4: Incomplete pass intended for Green.
That's what the play-by-play reads, at least. In fact, it was a pass that went well out of bounds to the left side with no players from either team around it. King dropped back and threw the pass almost immediately, as the play clearly didn't develop as expected and King was concerned about taking a sack.
Play 5: A gain of 15 yards on a run by King.
And that brings us to the play of the game, a moment that perfectly melded the Bucs' unflagging desire with just enough good fortune.
King lined up under center with Dunn in a single-back formation behind him. At the snap, Dunn sprinted immediately to his right and King, as he was dropping, threw a pass to Dunn that, as was intended, went in a backwards direction to qualify as a lateral. It was a play the team had used several times already with very good results.
Unfortunately, the Rams were ready for the play this time, and appeared to have it stopped dead. At the snap, DE Kevin Carter, who was lined up over the right tackle, veered directly towards Dunn instead of rushing the passer. Thus, Carter was in Dunn's face almost as soon as he got the ball.
"(I thought) that they had finally caught up with us," said Dungy. "We went to our quick screen and tried to get the ball to Warrick and get him in some open space. They actually had a great defensive call for that play. They blitzed and had the end pulling off on him. It looked like it was going to be a big loss, and then you figure that you've got two downs to make about 20 yards."
In fact, Dunn would have been stopped at the Bucs' 21 for a loss of 14. Instead, he made a play similar to the previous week, when a spin move on virtually the same play allowed him to escape a sure safety. This time, Dunn ducked his head into Carter's chest and spun, which at least allowed him to avoid getting knocked down immediately.
As Carter got a hold on Dunn's jersey, LB London Fletcher came up for the kill shot. However, Carter's grasp on Dunn actually spun him farther downfield away from Fletcher and in the direction of King, who had dropped back deep into the pocket after the pass. Carter finally managed to pull Dunn down on top of him, but just before he did, Dunn got a hand free and pitched a lateral back to King.
"Shaun just started screaming my name," said Dunn, sharing credit for his inspiration. "I didn't even second-guess to pitch the football. I pitched it and Shaun did the rest. He made the run to get the first down."
Here, specifically, is what King did after the ball was back in his hands. His first step was to the left, and Ram defenders Devin Bush, Grant Wistrom and Fletcher reacted immediately in pursuit. At this point, guard Frank Middleton re-enters the picture, coming backwards to dive into Wistrom, a play that also took out Fletcher. "Dunn came up big," Middleton would say later. "Keyshawn came up big. King came up big and the whole offense came up big. We had two or three minutes left and we made them pay."
After that block, Bush was left standing alone when King chose that moment to dart back to the right. He found a seam between the pile of players created by Middleton and Carter, who had remained on the ground and was holding down Dunn to keep him out of the play.
Technically, King could have thrown the ball at this point, but he wasn't completely certain that the first pitch had been a lateral. "I thought about throwing it, but I wasn't sure if it was a lateral or a pass. I ran it and the guys did a good job of keeping their blocks."
In fact, when King split that initial seam, he found himself with room to ramble up the right sideline, though he first had to outrun DE Sean Moran, who dove at King's feet but just missed.
"I thought he was going to (throw), and I was looking to see if we had any linemen (illegally) downfield," said Dungy of his thoughts as the Bucs' season hung in the balance. "I thought he would be able to throw, because we had practiced it all week and it was definitely going to be a lateral. As I was looking for the linemen downfield, I saw him really have a path to run, and it ended up being pretty good for us."
Jones must have thought King would try to throw as well, because he kept his coverage downfield on Moore even as King came around the corner. When he finally peeled off Moore, Jones was able to force King out of bounds at the midfield stripe. Unfortunately for the Rams, Jones shoved King when he was well out of bounds, driving him into TE Roland Williams' waiting forearm on the sideline and earning a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
Suddenly, the Bucs were at the Rams' 35-yard line, and there was still 1:33 left in the game. Dungy knew how important that single play was right then and there.
"Just getting the start (was important)," he said. "You want to make a first down and get some things going. See if you can get the clock going and get them playing defense where they're not huddling. Once we did that, I thought we were in pretty good shape. Shaun makes the one run on the strange play and gets hit out of bounds, so now, all of a sudden, you've picked up 30 yards and the clock stopped. Now, once we got to the 35, we knew we had plenty of time and it was just a matter of calling the right plays and executing.
"It was reminiscent of the Washington game last year when something good happened. Warrick had the presence of mind to try to make something happen, and it ended up being a big play for us."
Play 6: Completion to Dunn for six yards.
Okay, so what was the right call then, with 35 yards left and time to work with? Dungy went right back to Dunn.
On this play, Dunn split to the right of King, who took the snap from the shotgun. Dunn released into the flat and King looks immediately to the right and to the middle. At the last instant, he turns and fires an out to Dunn, who was covered well by Fletcher but was able to pick up six yards and get out of bounds, stopping the clock at 1:26. The Bucs, who began the drive with no timeouts, were continually able to get to the sideline and preserve precious seconds during the winning drive.
"They took the approach that they were going to try to come after us and be disruptive, play a lot of man coverage," said Dungy. "So, therefore, we did have some chances to get out of bounds."
Play 7: Incomplete pass, intended for Green.
This is the play that could have been the back-breaker had the Bucs not been able to complete the comeback. With King again in the shotgun and Dunn to his left, King took the snap and very quickly lofted a high, floating pass towards the goal line on the left side. Green was sprinting down the sideline to meet the ball, with Bush in coverage. Bush, who was behind Green by a step, leapt at the 10-yard line, but King's touch pass made it over his outstretched hand. As Green's foot hits the five-yard line, the ball hits his outstretched hands, but he can't haul it in.
It was a disheartening moment for the Buccaneers, who appeared to have victory in their grasp, but it was only a moment. Tampa Bay still had 1:21 left on the clock and a feeling that they wouldn't be denied.
"We had some close ones there, but we knew…we watched them in two-minute situations on tape," said Dungy. "Their personality on defense is to come after you and play man-to-man, so we knew we would have some opportunities. I think, when we missed that one, we just said, 'Hey, we'll get another chance. That's not going to be our last chance.'"
It did, however, set up third-and-four from the Rams' 29.
Play 8: Incomplete pass, intended for Johnson.
To gain a first down, the Bucs tried to go back to their go-to receiver on the day, and actually made a perfect play call. The aggressive Rams blitzed again, this time bringing both Jones and CB Todd Lyght from the right side. That left the right side of the field open, and Johnson ran a short post into that area, with King throwing his way immediately.
However, King, who had been extremely accurate on most of his clutch throws Monday night, delivered this one a little low. Johnson tried to slide and catch it, and motioned that he had come up with the ball, but the officials ruled it incomplete. For a moment, considering the area of the field and the situation in the game, it recalled last year's NFC Championship Game, in which an apparent catch by the Bucs' Bert Emanuel was overruled. In this case, however, replay clearly showed that the call was correct.
That put the Bucs into a fourth-and-four situation.
Play 9: King scrambles for six yards.
King took the snap and was given a good pocket, but he couldn't quickly find an open man. Fletcher waited in the middle of the field, clearly spying on King in case he chose to run, and that's exactly what King did.
After bouncing one step to the left as he looked for a man, King suddenly darted to the right, and Fletcher took off in pursuit immediately, trying to cut off his angle. Though the Bucs' quarterback was able to get to the corner, with no other defenders around, Fletcher closed on him and dove, catching King's left leg in his arms. However, the Bucs' elusive quarterback was able to stumble past the yards marker, even getting out of bounds to stop the clock again.
Play 10: Incomplete pass, intended for Dunn.
This was another instance in which the Bucs chose to go for the big play. With a first down at the 23 and 1:08 remaining, King lined up in the shotgun, with Dunn split left. Dunn immediately went out into a pattern, running up the right sideline with Wistrom in pursuit. Though it was a favorable matchup for Tampa Bay, Wistrom did well in the coverage and Dunn had to dive for the ball, just missing it as it came down inside the 10.
Play 11: Completion to WR Reidel Anthony for 22 yards.
Had it not been for Dunn and King's pitch-and-lateral game earlier, this might have been the most remarkable play of the march.
St. Louis once again brought Lyght on a corner blitz from the right side, and King alertly threw in that direction. Anthony, split wide to the right, went upfield with nickel back Jacoby Shepherd in coverage. Anthony got a step on Shepherd and King threw the ball almost immediately, but the pass comes in behind Anthony.
Spying the pass coming in off target, Anthony begins to spin backwards at the nine-yard line, even as he continues downfield. By the time he extends his arms, he has spun almost 180 degrees, but he manages to catch the well away from his body and continue to spin. Anthony tries to dive over the goal line, but Shepherd forces him out of bounds at the one.
Dungy was thrilled to get another big play from yet another source.
"Reidel didn't even look like he was going to play at noon," said Dungy. "He's in bed and can't get up – flu symptoms. To come in and make a big catch at that time in the game – that's what you need and that's what's expected."
Play 12: Incomplete pass, intended for Moore.
With 56 seconds remaining, the Bucs' suddenly had a first-and-goal, with just one yard to go.
Despite Dunn's effectiveness all day, the Bucs were a little concerned about the clock, so they chose to pass on first down. Moore went in motion from the left side to the right, then ran into the end zone and to the right sideline at the snap. King took the snap and dropped just a step before throwing immediately, too quick for Moore, who couldn't get turned around in time to make the catch behind him.
"The tough part there was, if you run, we didn't have any more time outs, so you have to be pretty sure that you can get it in," said Dungy.
Play 13: One-yard touchdown run by Dunn.
Apparently, they felt pretty sure. On the next play, Dunn lined up in the same single-back formation that had produced the pitch-and-lateral play earlier. This time, he darts left at the snap and takes a quick pitch from King. Tackle George Hegamin immediately pulls off the line and sprints farther left, joining Moore in a block on Jones, sealing off the outside.
Johnson then comes flying in from the left side to take care of his man, blocking Bush with a dive at the legs. However, Bush manages to fight through the block and, as Dunn suddenly stops stretching it outside and cuts up towards the goal line, Bush stumbles into his path.
Bush can't stay on his feet, but he does get directly in front of Dunn. The Buccaneer back, who said later that he tries never to leave his feet, leapt instinctively from the three, over Bush. From underneath, Bush pushes Dunn horizontal in his flight path, with cornerback Dre' Bly closing in from the left side and LB Keith Miller flashing in from the right. Both players hit Dunn as he flies toward the goal line, but Dunn has enough momentum to just cross into pay dirt.
"Les finally called the running play that we had really worked on and liked down there, and we did get it in," said Dungy. "I think we'd have preferred to run if we had a minute and 20 left, a minute 30…then maybe you do run. The idea was just to make sure that we scored."
That's the clinical description. Most of the Bucs were much more excited at the time.
"The final drive shows the type of character we have on this team," said Green.
C Jeff Christy, who until recently played for a Vikings team that was no stranger to 38-point days, felt Dunn's touchdown run was meant to happen.
"It is a great feeling," said Christy. "I came from an offensive team and to see our offense step up was great. I tried to give Shaun time to make big plays and he did. When I saw the lateral, I knew we would win."
Perhaps not everyone on the sideline was that prescient, but, at the least, that play confirmed that something special was going on that evening in Raymond James Stadium. In a game that would have been a nationwide crowd pleaser even without the Bucs' comeback, The Drive transformed it into a classic.
It will go down in Buccaneers history.