CB Ronde Barber's blocked punt gave the Bucs a leg up in the first half, and they held on for a 16-13 overtime win
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 16-13, overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday was a win only a mother could love.
Well, a mother and Tony Dungy.
Not to mention any Buccaneer player, coach or fan still harboring playoff hopes.
Tampa Bay won without scoring an offensive touchdown, making a return of a blocked punt by TE Todd Yoder and three Martin Gramatica field goals hold up through ball control and a defense that was impenetrable for three-plus quarters. Gramatica's third shot, a 21-yarder, won the game five minutes into overtime after RB Corey Dillon had fumbled at the Bengals' four-yard line.
However, the Bucs failed to capitalize on repeated scoring opportunities in the second half, setting the stage for Cincinnati's dramatic comeback in the fourth quarter.
Through three-and-a-half quarters, the Buccaneers' defense held Cincinnati to 102 total yards of offense and nine first downs. However, Dungy elected to go for a 51-yard field goal try with 6:34 remaining and the Bucs up by 10. After Martin Gramatica missed the kick short and left, Cincinnati took over at its own 41.
The Bengals capitalized with a field goal drive, moving 36 yards on seven plays, most notably Dillon's 16-yard run, his longest of the game. After a quick three-and-out by the Bucs' offense, Cincinnati got the ball back and drove 64 yards on 14 plays for the tying touchdown. After converting a fourth-and-three with a four-yard pass to former Florida State star receiver Peter Warrick, QB Jon Kitna finished the drive with an eight-yard scoring strike to Dillon.
Dillon caught the ball at the one and was stood up quickly by S Dexter Jackson, with more Buc help on the way. However, Dillon fell toward the line and was ruled to have scored. A replay challenge failed to turn up conclusive evidence to overturn the ruling.
In overtime, the Bucs drove quickly into Cincinnati scoring territory, as QB Brad Johnson hit WR Keyshawn Johnson twice for 21 yards and TE Dave Moore once for 11. However, on third-and-two from the Bengals' 30, apparently in scoring range, Johnson dropped to pass and was immediately sacked by blitzing LB Brian Simmons, the Bengals' season-high sixth sack of the game.
Now out of field goal range for all practical purposes, the Bucs elected to punt, and CB Dwight Smith downed Mark Royals' rolling kick at the four, setting up Dillon's fumble. The Bucs won in overtime for the first time in two tries this season and the first time overall since 1996, snapping a three-game sudden-death losing streak.
The Bucs still held Cincinnati to just 201 yards of offense and controlled the ball for nearly 40 of the game's 65 minutes. Dillon was mostly controlled, gaining 79 yards on 23 carries, just 48 on 18 carries through the first three quarters. QB Jon Kitna was sacked just three times but constantly harassed into completing just half of his 38 passes for 144 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
That one pick belonged to CB Donnie Abraham in the fourth quarter, and it set up a 48-yard Gramatica field goal, giving the Bucs a seemingly-safe 10-point lead. The interception was the 29th of Abraham's career, tying him with Cedric Brown for the most in team history. It also extended the Bucs' string of consecutive games with at least one interception to 15, a new Tampa Bay record.
Until Dillon's late catch, the only touchdown of the game had come on special teams. Trailing 3-0 early in the second quarter, the Bucs lined up in a return look for a punt attempt by Nick Harris from the Bengals' 29. However, CB Ronde Barber left the wide man by the sideline and blitzed from the right, blocking Harris' punt and sending the ball skyward and towards the end zone. Yoder caught the loose ball on one hop and trotted 11 yards into the end zone for his first career touchdown. It was also the first touchdown on a blocked punt by the Bucs since September 28, 1997, when Alshermond Singleton's play helped the Bucs win, 19-18 during their 5-0 start.
The special teams score, officially a drive of no plays, helped erase the pain of an 18-play drive that came up empty shortly before. After Cincinnati had consumed over eight minutes on a field goal drive to open the game, the Bucs followed with an 18-play, 11-minute marathon that went forward and backward in fits and starts. Five receptions for 48 yards by Jacquez Green, making his first start since October 14, put the Bucs into field goal position but Gramatica missed a 43-yarder to the right.
Johnson was exceptionally accurate on the day, completing 26 of 33 passes, including his first 14 throws, and all 12 in the first half. Since he also completed his last pass of the night in St. Louis on Monday, Johnson put together a string of 15 consecutive completions, tying a team record set by Steve DeBerg versus Minnesota on September 14, 1986.
Johnson's favorite targets were Keyshawn Johnson (seven for 85) and Green (seven for 67), though FB Mike Alstott also picked up 31 yards on three receptions to add to his 24 yards on six carries. Alstott ran and blocked extremely hard in the fourth quarter, helping to make up for a fumble at the Bengals' 20-yard line that killed another third-quarter drive.
RB Warrick Dunn ran 21 times for just 42 yards and appeared to have difficulty keeping his footing in the middle of the field. His three catches netted just five yards, breaking a string of three consecutive games with over 100 combined rushing and receiving yards.
Despite the late stumble, a strong defensive effort was led by Barber and LB Derrick Brooks. In addition to his blocked punt, Barber added nine tackles, a forced fumble and several near sacks. Brooks led all players with 11 tackles and often met Dillon shortly after he reached the line of scrimmage. DE Simeon Rice turned in his first two-sack game as a Buc, also forcing a fumble, that was nearly recovered by DT Warren Sapp in the fourth quarter. Sapp tried to pick the ball up without falling on it, and DT Anthony McFarland accidentally knocked it away from his teammate at the last instant.
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 team's narrow escape from Cincinnati.
First Quarter Report