IRVING, Texas - A win is a win.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened the 2001 season with a less than impressive 10-6 victory against the Dallas Cowboys in front of 61,521 fans at Texas Stadium. It was not a pretty win, it was not a dominating win, and it was not an impressive performance for some units of the Bucs.
Yet it was a victory on the road in a venue where the Bucs had been winless in seven previous attempts. Tampa Bay is just thankful to be 1-0.
On the offensive side of the football, quarterback Brad Johnson did exactly what was expected when the Bucs signed him as a free agent during the offseason. He was an efficient 26-for-35 for 195 yards with one interception and was able to move the Buccaneers offense accounted for 263 net yards (71 on the ground and 192 through the air) in 70 plays.
Tampa Bay accumulated 19 first downs against Dallas and their only shortcoming was that they couldn't finish drives with more than 10 points.
From a defensive standpoint, Tampa Bay had a near-perfect outing. They held the Dallas offense to 127 total yards, which was the third-best defensive effort in franchise history. The Cowboys had only eight first downs, converted 1-of-10 third down situations, ran a paltry 44 plays, were spanked in time of possession, 36:32 to 23:28, and held to a miniscule 31 net passing yards.
The only time a Bucs defense forced a lower output was on the road in the opening game of the 1980 season when the Buccaneers held the Cincinnati Bengals to 16 net passing yards in a 17-12 Tampa Bay victory.
The one unit that did have a sub-par contest was the Bucs special teams. The kickoff coverage team was almost burned for a touchdown early in the game and couldn't muster any yardage in the return game. The punt return team couldn't generate anything in the way of a positive return and the kickoff return team gave up an onside kick that the Cowboys recovered after their first score.
Tampa Bay's punt coverage team had several miscues at a critical times of the game Not a stellar performance for special teams coach Joe Marciano's troops, which racked up three penalties.
The Bucs began the 2001 season on a positive note. After the opening kickoff was downed by wide receiver Karl Williams in the end zone, Tampa Bay drove 59 yards in 13 plays for a 39-yard field goal from the right hash by kicker Martin Gramatica at 7:50 of the first quarter.
Quarterback Brad Johnson was a perfect 8-for-8 for 56 yards on the opening drive. Johnson spread the football around to four different receivers on the drive. Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and fullback Mike Alstott had two catches, with wide receiver Jacquez Green and running back Warrick Dunn each had a catch. The drive ate up 7:07 of clock time allowing Tampa Bay to take an early 3-0 lead.
But the Pewter Pirates' lead was short-lived. The initial kickoff of the 2001 season by the Bucs was returned 77 yards by wide receiver Reggie Swinton, who finished the day with three returns for 131 yards. Only a touchdown-saving slowdown by cornerback Ronde Barber and tackle by linebacker Al Singleton kept the fleet Dallas returner out of the end zone.
Cowboys rookie quarterback Quincy Carter (9-for-19 for 34 yards and two interceptions) showed tremendous athleticism on the second play from scrimmage. On a bootleg right off a dive left fake to running back Emmitt Smith (13 rushes for 40 yards), he avoided defensive end Marcus Jones and defensive tackle Warren Sapp before cutting back across the field for a 17-yard gain to the Bucs' 3. Free safety Dexter Jackson made a touchdown-saving tackle and kept the Cowboys out of the end zone.
The Bucs defense put up a huge goal line stand with a big third-down stop of Smith by cornerback Brian Kelly on the Bucs' 1 that forced Dallas to settle for a 22-yard field goal. Kicker Tim Seder was true from the left hash to tie the game at 3-3 with 4:26 left in the opening period.
The six-play, 13-yard drive took 3:24 of clock time and the Bucs dodged a huge bullet with the help of four huge individual efforts.
The Cowboys gambled on the ensuing kickoff and it worked. Kicker Micah Knorr executed a perfect onside kick to the left hash that was recovered by safety George Teague at the Dallas' 42-yard line. But any momentum that the Cowboys had developed was eliminated on the second play when cornerback Donnie Abraham recovered a fumbled snap by Carter.
The Bucs offense wasn't able to move the chains and had to settle for a 52-yard field goal by Gramatica. His boot from the left hash was wide right and short at 2:19 of the first quarter.
Both teams traded turnovers before the end of the initial quarter. Jackson made a leaping interception of a Carter aerial for the Bucs, but the favor was returned by Cowboys safety Darren Woodson, who stepped in front of a Johnson pass intended for Keyshawn Johnson (5 catches for 71 yards).
The only threat of the second quarter was by the Bucs. The Pewter Pirates, starting from their own 10-yard line, put together a 14-play drive that covered 69 yards until Dunn fumbled after gaining a first down. Dunn was hit by rookie defensive tackle John Nix and defensive end Peppi Zellner recovered the loose ball at the Dallas 21.
The Cowboys took the lead on their opening drive of the second half. Seder hit a 46-yard field goal from the left hash to culminate a seven-play, 41-yard drive that ate up 3:18 of the game clock. This gave the Cowboys their first lead at 6-3 coming at 11:42 of the third quarter.
The Buccaneers took the lead for good with 12:35 left in of the fourth quarter. Brad Johnson sneaked in from the 1-yard line and Gramatica converted the extra point to put Tampa Bay up 10-6.
The Buccaneers offense fashioned a picture perfect 13-play drive that covered 77 yards and chewed up 6:33 off the clock. Johnson converted two big third down situations when he hit Jacquez Green for 25 and 7 yards, respectively, to keep the chains moving.
Green finished with 8 grabs for 75 yards, while Keyshawn Johnson was a factor with seven grabs for 71 yards. Johnson suffered a leg injury on his first catch and was hobbling the rest of the game.
The Cowboys made one last gasp at victory. After forcing the Bucs to punt from their own 5-yard line, the Cowboys took over in Buccaneers territory. After three plays netted one yard, Carter was picked off by strong safety John Lynch on a fourth-and-9 to seal the victory.
The sign of a good team is to win when they are not playing their best football. The Buccaneers showed that they had just enough offense to overcome a poor special teams performance and not waste a dominating effort by the defense. Plus, anytime you win on the road in the National Football League it's a good thing, no matter how bad the opposition is perceived to be. It's no easy task to walk into someone's backyard, especially a team with the storied tradition of the Dallas Cowboys, and emerge with a victory.
The bottom line is that the Bucs came back in the fourth quarter on offense and scored, and the defense rose to the occasion as well. Dallas proved to be a much tougher opponent on the gridiron than they did on paper, but the most important stat is wins and losses and Tampa Bay is 1-0. The Bucs took their first step toward New Orleans and, although it was a stumble, they righted themselves just in time to beat the Cowboys.
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