Take a look back at the Buccaneers' 27-10 victory over the Eagles in the 2002-2003 NFC Championship game.
Originally posted: January 19, 2003*
The rock cracked on Sunday. The rock cracked and the Vet crumbled…and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl dreams came true.
'Pound the rock,' Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden told his team every week of this magical 2002 season. Keep pounding and eventually it will shatter. On Sunday in the final NFL contest in venerable Veterans Stadium, the 2002 NFC Championship Game, the Bucs cleaved the rock apart. One more blow will shatter it.
A huge, craggy, white rock sat in the middle of the Bucs locker room at Veterans Stadium on Sunday, there to welcome the Buccaneers back into the warmth after their 27-10 victory over the hosting Philadelphia Eagles in sub-freezing temperatures. The symbolic hunk of minerals had made the trip with the team to Philly, where the Bucs were not supposed to be able to win.
But win they did, thanks to an inspired effort from the league's top-ranked defense and enough big plays in the passing game to pick up 259 yards through the air. The result is the first Super Bowl berth in team history and a date next week against the winner of Sunday night's AFC Championship Game between the Tennessee Titans and the Oakland Raiders.
- Martin Gramatica's 48-yard field goal in the first quarter was the longest three-pointer in Buccaneer playoff history.
- WR Joe Jurevicius' 71-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter was the second-longest reception in Buccaneer postseason history. The longest ever for Tampa Bay was a 75-yarder by Jimmie Giles at Dallas on 1/2/82.
- Not only was CB Ronde Barber's 92-yard interception return the longest by a Buc in their postseason history, it was the first one to result in a touchdown.
- The Bucs became the seventh road team in the last six years to win in a conference championship game.
- The win was the first ever by Tampa Bay on the road in the playoffs. It was just the second by the team in a game played under 40 degrees, the first coming last month at Chicago. The kickoff temperature was 27 degrees, with a wind-chill of 16.
On one level, Sunday's victory avenged a string of recent Buccaneer losses in the Vet, including Wild Card playoff defeats that ended the past two seasons. However, this game was more about the future than the past – Bucs like CB Ronde Barber insisted during the week that the showdown in Philadelphia was merely a stepping stone to the team's ultimate goal of an NFL championship.
The Bucs will return to Tampa Sunday evening, then fly out to San Diego Monday afternoon for the beginning of Super Bowl XXXVII week.
Early on, it looked as if it would be the Bucs who would crack, as Philadelphia had the lead and a delirious crowd before the game was a minute old. Brian Mitchell, the most prolific return man in league history, took the opening kickoff 70 yards to the Bucs' 26 and RB Duce Staley ran it in for a 20-yard touchdown two plays later.
The momentum turned before the quarter was over, however, thanks to one Buccaneer who almost didn't make it to the game.
WR Joe Jurevicius missed all of the week's practices and the team's charter flight to Philadelphia on Friday to stay with his wife and newborn son, who arrived a month early. He rejoined the team on Saturday and on Sunday, with the Bucs facing a third-and-two at their own 24 and trailing 7-3, he caught a short pass over the middle, out-ran LB Carlos Emmons and got to the left sideline. Just as it looked like he would run out of bounds with a healthy, 30-yard gain, Jurevicius turned upfield and ran all the way down to the five for a 71-yard gain. FB Mike Alstott scored two plays later on a one-yard run and the Bucs would never trail again.
There were some tense moments in the fourth quarter when QB Donovan McNabb, his team trailing by 10, made several amazing plays on scrambles to give Philly a first down at the Bucs' 10. That's when the Bucs' defense rose again for the game-deciding play. Just after escaping several near-sacks to hit WR Antonio Freeman at the 10, McNabb tried to hit Freeman on and out and instead found CB Ronde Barber, who cut in front of the play for an interception and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown.
Tampa Bay forced three turnovers and committed just one, twice knocking the ball out of McNabb's hands to force fumbles near midfield. The Bucs, who allowed 252 yards of offense per game during the regular season, gave up 312 on Sunday, but 144 of those came on the Eagles' last three drives, with Tampa Bay merely trying to run out the clock by laying back and allowing the short pass.
Martin Gramatica scored 12 points in the Buccaneers' Super Bowl victory over the Raiders in 2003.
Despite that quick score by the Eagles, plus another long Mitchell return and a Bobby Taylor interception in Buc territory, the Bucs miraculously led 10-7 at the end of the first quarter. Tampa Bay's first score came on a 48-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica following a 43-yard drive.
Alstott's run after Jurevicius' big catch minutes later capped a 96-yard drive, the longest in Buccaneer postseason history. The Bucs' defense held after Taylor's interception but Lee Johnson punted down to Tampa Bay's four. Two runs by Alstott got the Bucs out of the shadow of their goal line and gave QB Brad Johnson room to find Jurevicius, after calling a timeout to review the situation.
Johnson, who finished the regular season as the NFC's leading passer with a Buc-record 92.9 rating, was extremely efficient again in 27-degree weather Sunday, completing 20 of 33 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown. He was not sacked. Though the Bucs' running game picked up just 49 yards, it kept the Eagles' blitz-happy defense honest, as Tampa Bay ran on 32 plays and threw on 33.
The Eagles tied it up in the second quarter thanks to another dose of good field position, this one set up by a 64-yard Lee Johnson punt that rolled down to the Bucs' two. After the Bucs stalled and had to punt out of their end zone, Philly started at its own 38 but couldn't get any closer than the 10. The key defensive play came on a stunning third-down scramble by QB Donovan McNabb, the type that often leads to a big gain on a broken play but this time ended in a throw-away thanks to amazing coverage.
The Bucs answered right back, embarking on another long drive, this one an 80-yarder keyed by RB Michael Pittman's 31-yard catch-and-run. WR Keyshawn Johnson caught three passes on the drive for 40 yards, including a 22-yarder into Philly territory and a nine-yard touchdown pass on third-and-goal.
A short kickoff gave the Eagles possession at their own 40 with two-and-a-half minutes left in the half, and McNabb got his team down near the red zone with a scrambling, 23-yard completion to Antonio Freeman. However, McNabb's old high school teammate, DE Simeon Rice, short-circuited the scoring threat by knocking the ball out of McNabb's hand and recovering the fumble for Tampa Bay. That play, the Bucs' only takeaway of the first half, preserved the visiting team's 17-10 lead going into the intermission.
A similar play on the Eagles' first possession of the second half led to another turnover. Barber, who finished the day with three tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, four passes defensed and the big interception, blitzed and swatted the ball from McNabb's hands, forcing a fumble that Ellis Wyms recovered. Though the Bucs did not score after the turnover, they did have the only points of the third quarter, a 27-yard Gramatica field goal at the end of a 43-yard drive. The big play on that march was a play-action, 19-yard pass to TE Ken Dilger on third-and-four.
The only score of the fourth quarter was Barber's touchdown. At roughly 6:20, the Bucs walked off the field champions of the NFC.