In this game, as was the case in the 2000 contest, the outcome was no longer in doubt after the first 30 minutes when the Bucs jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead. Tampa Bay was on cruise control for the final 30 minutes and improved their record to 3-3 while the Vikings dropped to 3-4.
This game was definitely a gut-check for the Bucs, especially after the way they were beat up last week by the Pittsburgh Steelers at home 17-10. Head coach Tony Dungy was visibly upset after the rare home loss and expressed that displeasure all week at practice. He also had a stirring pre-game speech that pushed the right buttons on his team. For his efforts at motivating his troops to play with passion and emotion, the Bucs rewarded their mentor with a coveted game ball after the win.
The only dark cloud for Tampa Bay occurred on the first play of the game. On the opening kickoff, Bucs troubled returner Dwight Smith muffed Gary Anderson's opening kick down the right sidelines and fumbled it out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 4-yard line. After an initial first down when quarterback Brad Johnson hit wide receiver Reidel Anthony for 13 yards on a third-and-1l from their own 3-yard line, the Bucs were forced to punt.
Mark Royals sliced one off the side of his foot for only 29 yards and set the high-octane Minnesota offense up with their opening possession in Bucs territory at the 48-yard line. With a short field, the Vikings with a 15-mph wind at their back and brimming with confidence after their 35-13 drubbing of the NFC Central-leading Green Bay Packers in the Metrodome last week - things did not bode well for the Buccaneers defense.
But this week, the dominating Bucs defense that we have seen in the past reappeared at RJS after a two-game hiatus. The defense rose up like a tidal wave to stop the Vikes cold with a three-and-out.
On their next drive, the Bucs went 80 yards in 15 plays and took a season-high 8:23 off the clock with running back Mike Alstott, who had 129 yards on 29 carries with three of the runs resulting in touchdowns, going the final three yards on the ground right up the middle of the Minnesota defense.
Martin Gramatica's extra point put the Bucs up 7-0 with 1:35 left in the first quarter. Tampa Bay converted two third downs, with Johnson hitting receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who led the Bucs with five catches for 62 before exiting the game with a right knee contusion right before halftime, for 13 yards on a third-and-3 for 14 yards. He also connected with wide receiver Karl Williams, who had four grabs for 80 yards, for nine yards on a third-and-2. They also went for a fourth down when Johnson sneaked over the right side for three yards on his only rush of the day on a fourth-and-1 from the Vikings 39-yard line.
The Bucs immediately increased their lead when the defense forced a Berger punt after another three-and-out. It was Alstott again going the final six yards behind guard Randall McDaniel to cap a nine-play, 66-yard drive that chewed another 5:41 seconds off the clock. Another Gramatica PAT made it 14-0 with 9:00 left in the second stanza and the drive saw two highlight reel runs.
The first was a reverse to Anthony, who turned a 6-yard loss into a 16-yard gain when he made a stop-and-go move on cornerback Eric Kelly that left him reaching for air. The second was an 8-yard run by Alstott who made a great hop-and-step move in the hole then followed a great block by Johnson.
After another ho-hum three plays by the Vikings that resulted in five yards, the Buccaneers almost blocked Berger's punt. Reserve tight end Todd Yoder forced the Minnesota punter to pull the football down. This led to a 26-yard boot and set the Bucs up at their own 45-yard line.
It took 3:05 for the Bucs to take a commanding 21-0 lead when Johnson beat a Minnesota blitz and found running back Aaron Stecker, who finished with 30 yards on eight rushes and 51 yards on two receptions, on a perfectly timed screen pass. Following blocks by center Jeff Christy, right guard Cosey Coleman and right tackle Jerry Wunsch and some superb downfield blocking by Johnson and receiver Frank Murphy, the former World League Offensive MVP scored his first NFL touchdown with some nifty yards after the catch with 3:34 left before halftime.
The Bucs took six plays to cover the 55 yards and Gramatica's third successful conversion kick set a new Bucs record for consecutive extra points made. He surpassed Michael Husted's 78 straight, and has a string of 81 straight still intact.
The Bucs finished the first half scoring with a picture-perfect drive that was a textbook example of clock management. After the Bucs forced the Vikings into a fourth consecutive three-and-out, the Tampa Bay took 2:00 to cover 74 yards in 10 plays. A big Johnson-to-Stecker left-handed shovel pass right before he was sacked on third-and-5 gained 16 yards and moved the chains. Johnson found tight end Dave Moore, who had five grabs for 27 yards and a score, for a 5-yard TD on an option stop route that worked just the way coordinator Clyde Christensen and his staff envisioned when they devised it for a 28-0 lead.
The halftime statistics bore out the rout. Minnesota ran 13 offensive plays to the Bucs' 46, and had not accumulated a first down while Tampa Bay had moved the chains 20 times. Minnesota only had possession for 7:13 while the Bucs played keep-away for 22:47.
The third period was more of the same with the Bucs tallying two field goals in a hurry. After the Vikes fifth straight three-and-out Berger's 51-yard punt was returned by Williams 28 yards to the Minnesota 25, which had been the best starting field position for the Tampa Bay offense all season. But after a three-out, the Bucs had to settle for a 44-yard field goal. The possession extended the lead to 31-0. ,p> The lead mushroomed to 34-0 after QB Daunte Culpepper had his pass bounced off the hands of wide receiver Cris Carter. The carom fell right into the waiting arms of free safety Dexter Jackson for his third pick of the season to set the Bucs up with their second short field at the Minnesota 37-yard line. But after another three-and-out, Gramatica boomed a 48-yard field goal to give Tampa Bay a 34-0 lead.
The Vikings finally got on the scoreboard with their next possession at 6:28 of the third quarter. Running back Travis Prentice scored on a 1-yard burst up the middle on his only carry of the game. The Vikes registered their initial first down with 9:45 left in the third quarter when Culpepper hit Carter for 40 yards. Culpepper added the two-point conversion to cap a seven-play, 83-yard drive that took 3:37 off the clock on a rollout to the right that put the Vikes down 34-8.
The ensuing kickoff was one of the most exciting plays of the day for Bucs fans. Anderson's squib kick was picked up by center Todd Washington, who decided to audition for the goal-line and short yardage fullback job. Big No. 75 showed tremendous power when he turned the lights out on Vikings linebacker Fearon Wright as he tried to tackle the 324-pound Washington, who was a high school fullback. Washington bounced off an unconscious Wright, switched hands with the football and stiff-armed a potential tackler before being brought down after a 22-yard return. The Bucs then drove down the field to finish their scoring when Alstott scored his third rushing TD from 10 yards out. Gramatica's PAT ended a six-play, 56-yard drive with 12:42 left in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings added a meaningless touchdown with 9:08 remaining in the football game. Culpepper engineered a 10-play, 62-yard drive that took 4:22 to complete when he hit wide receiver Randy Moss, who had three grabs for 39 yards, for a 25-yard scoring strike on a post pattern. The two-point conversion pass from Culpepper to Byron Chamberlain, who was held without a catch by the Bucs secondary, was incomplete as Minnesota inched closer to the Bucs at 41-14, but it was too little and too late.
The Bucs, given up for dead last week, are again alive and breathing at 3-3. Thanks to a little emotion from the coach and a rejuvenated A-Train, they are back in the thick of the NFC Central division race.
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