The Bucs and Ravens defenses traded blows, but Tampa Bay had all the killer shots, including this big fourth-quarter sack by S Dexter Jackson
This one was billed as a heavyweight battle between two powerful defenses. If so, the Baltimore Ravens' defense won the punch count but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' squad delivered the knockout blows.
In a 22-10 Buccaneer victory that very nearly puts Tampa Bay into the playoffs, the Ravens gained more yards, 257 to 213, but the Bucs' defense had all the sacks and all the turnovers.
Those five sacks and three takeaways – plus a blocked punt – helped the Bucs' build a 16-7 halftime lead, with the defense getting a hand from its corner man, the special teams. In a decisive second round – uh, quarter – Tampa Bay scored two field goals and a touchdown, all three on drives of 17 yards or less.
"We had good field position and had the short field," said Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy at halftime, with the Bucs clinging to a 16-7 lead. "It would have been nice to push a couple of those in. Hopefully, we can get that done in the second half."
They did, but that's another story. The game was truly decided in that blitz of a second quarter. Here was the chain of events:
DE Simeon Rice's 11th sack of the season early in the second quarter forced a Baltimore punt from deep in their own territory, and a penalty on the return gave the Bucs a first down at the Ravens' 36. Though Tampa Bay could manage only one first down from there, they did capitalize with a 38-yard Doug Brien field goal, making it 7-6, Baltimore.
TE Todd Yoder then blocked Baltimore's next punt just two minutes later, putting Tampa Bay back at the Ravens' 23. The Bucs almost put it in the end zone this time, but massive DT Tony Siragusa got a hand on a certain touchdown pass to FB Mike Alstott, and the Bucs settled for Brien's 24-yard chip shot.
LB Derrick Brooks then gave Tampa Bay a starting point it couldn't waste. On a third-down pass intended for favorite target TE Shannon Sharpe, Brooks reached out to his right to make an all-hands-team interception, then returned the turnover to within a few inches of the goal line. RB Moe Williams knocked Brooks out of bounds at the last instant, but QB Brad Johnson followed with a one-play drive, diving over the middle for the touchdown.
"It was a big play," said Dungy of Brooks' third interception of the season (12th of his career). "You know it's going to be a tight game and you are going to need big plays. That changed the field position and we got a score and got up nine points, so it was a huge play."
The Ravens had taken a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter on a 69-yard touchdown drive that ended in QB Elvis Grbac's 14-yard scoring pass to WR Travis Taylor, but they wouldn't score again until the beginning of the fourth quarter.
After the Bucs had bled away most of the third period while trying to make their nine-point edge hold up, they moved into field goal position late in the period and tried a 40-yarder. Newly-signed kicker Doug Brien, who had made his first three Buc field goals, from 42, 38 and 24 yards out, missed just to the right and the Ravens suddenly had advantageous field position.
They capitalized immediately, using a 25-yard pass to WR Qadry Ismail and a 22-yard run by RB Terry Allen to get down to the Bucs' two. However, the Bucs' big-play defense stepped up again, with Brooks stopping Allen twice at the one and a third-down pass sailing out of the end zone incomplete. Baltimore had to settle for a field goal, which means they needed a touchdown to win.
That proved to be too much when the Bucs made Baltimore start its next two drives at their own two and their own 12. The first march failed quickly, but the Ravens got the ball back quickly by forcing a three-and-out that consumed only 24 seconds. However, the Bucs defense still had one more knockout blow left in it.
On third-and-five from the Ravens' 31, with 2:04 remaining, the Bucs came with a gutsy blitz and S Dexter Jackson recorded his second sack of the game. The Ravens thus found themselves in a crucial fourth-and-10, and they turned it over when Brooks tackled Ismail on a short pass over the middle.
The Bucs took over at their own 31 and scored two plays later.
Trying mainly to run the last two minutes off the clock, the Bucs sealed the win when Alstott broke free for a 32-yard touchdown run, his single-season-best 11th of the season and the 50th of his stellar NFL. Alstott bashed for 80 yards on just 14 carries against the league's fourth-ranked rush defense, and Warrick Dunn added 47 yards on 13 carries. As a team, the Bucs rushed for 123 yards while holding Baltimore to 90.
"This was a big, big challenge tonight, and I thought our guys stepped up," said Dungy. "We played hard. The energy in our stadium means a lot to us, especially at this time in the season. We knew their defense was going to be good and it was going to be tough to move the ball on them."
For the second straight week, the Bucs' offensive line stepped up, as evidenced not only by the excellent rushing yardage total but also by the zero sacks allowed of QB Brad Johnson. In the past two weeks, the Bucs have rushed for 280 yards and allowed no sacks, despite facing two teams that had combined for 89 sacks.
The Bucs' first interception was by Barber, giving him an NFL-high 10 on the season and setting a new Tampa Bay record. Cedric Brown had held the record at nine since 1981. Barber, who also contributed five tackles and four passes defensed in yet another standout effort, is the first NFL player to get 10 picks in a season since Mark Carrier in 1990.
Like Barber, Brooks was all over the field, leading all players with 15 tackles and adding his 12th career interception and three passes defensed. Jackson, who had one career sack coming into the night, added seven tackles and DE Simeon Rice contributed his team-leading 11th sack and constant outside pressure.
QB Brad Johnson had, statistically, his least productive day as a Buccaneer, completing just 13 of 29 passes for 90 yards. However, he did not throw an interception for the second week in a row. WR Keyshawn Johnson had four receptions for 29 yards to push his NFL-leading catch total to 106.
Neither team had much success solving the other's third-down defense, as the Bucs converted on just two of 13 third-down tries and the Ravens managed on just four of 17. Bucs punter Mark Royals put four punts down inside the 20, with CB Dwight Smith downing three of them.
Both teams finished the game with 9-6 records, and the Bucs are now 10-0 in December games in Raymond James Stadium under Dungy. The Bucs have effectively locked up a playoff spot, though it won't become official this weekend unless Atlanta loses at Miami on Sunday. Even if the Bucs lose their finale against Philadelphia and the Falcons win their last two, Atlanta will have to make up a seemingly insurmountable 78-net-conference-points disadvantage.
During the contest, Buccaneers.com provided quarter-by-quarter reports on the action, complete with details of all the game's big plays. Those reports follow to give a closer look at the Bucs' most complete victory in quite some time.
First Quarter Report