Almost Bungled

December 2 - The Bucs blow several opportunities, but beat Bengals in OT 16-13. Tampa Bay moves to 6-5 by beating the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 in overtime, but it wasn't pretty. A blocked punt returned for a TD and a key fumble forced and recovered by strong safety John Lynch key the Buccaneers' win.

CINCINNATI - Tampa Bay tried real hard to lose to the 4-6 Cincinnati Bengals with several gaffs robbing the team of points it desperately needed in a game it ultimately won in overtime 16-13.

Two missed field goals by usually reliable kicker Martin Gramatica cost the Bucs six points. A fumble by running back Mike Alstott after catching a pass for a first down deep in Bengals territory cost Tampa Bay at least a shot at another field goal.

Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp tried to pick up the football after Simeon Rice forced a fumble by stripping Bengals QB Jon Kitna instead of falling on the loose ball at the Cincinnati 22. The Bengals recovered the fumble instead of the Bucs, but Tampa Bay would have been in the driver's seat up 13-3 had Sapp fallen on the ball deep inside Bengals territory.

And Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson took a 5-yard sack in overtime on third-and-3 which knocked the Bucs out of field goal range at the Bengals 35. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise though as punter Mark Royals did his job with a 31-yard pooch punt to the Cincinnati 4-yard line.

On Cincinnati's first play from scrimmage in overtime, Bucs strong safety John Lynch punched the ball out of Corey Dillon's grasp and fell on it to set up Gramatica's game-winning 21-yard field goal at the 9:54 mark of the overtime period to give the Bucs (6-5) their first winning streak and overtime win of the 2001 campaign.

The Buccaneers defense came flat against Cincinnati, allowing the Bengals to march down the field on their initial possession behind the power running of Dillon. Only a great play by Dexter Jackson on a second-and-goal from the Bucs' one-foot line kept Cincinnati out of the end zone. Jackson fought off the block of former Bucs fullback Lorenzo Neal and forced Dillon, who finished with 79 yards rushing on 23 carries, out of bounds on a sweep left for a loss of four yards.

On third-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 5-yard line quarterback Jon Kitna, who was 19-of-38 for 144 yards with a touchdown and interception, tried to hit tight end Tony McGee on a stop route just over the goal line, but the ball was thrown low.

Neal Rackers put the Bengals up 3-0 with a 23-yard field goal at the 6:50 mark of the initial period. Cincinnati drove 70 yards in 14 plays while chewing up 8:10 on its opening possession.

The Bucs dodged a big bullet on their first offensive series. After a first down pass on third-and-3 from Johnson, who was 26-of-33 for 231 yards, to Green, who had seven catches for 67 yards, on a hot read slant pass against a Bengal blitz the Bucs went into reverse. Two sacks and a delay-of-game penalty left Tampa Bay with a third-and-27 from their own 20-yard line.

Johnson tried to squeeze a skinny post to wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who finished with seven catches for 85 yards, but safety Chris Carter intercepted the ball at the Bucs 36-yard line. The Cincinnati defensive back returned the football to the Tampa Bay 17-yard line, but it was all for naught. Nickel back Kevin Kaesviharn was flagged for holding Johnson and that negated the turnover allowing the Bucs to continue the drive.

After controlling the ball for 11:09 and 18 plays, the Bucs came away empty on their initial possession. After converting four third downs, the Bucs got a little too cute on the fifth third down situation. On third-and-2 from the Bengals 24-yard line, Johnson tried the quarterback sneak but defensive tackle Oliver Gibson blew threw the gap to throw the Tampa Bay signal caller for a 1-yard loss. The Bucs tried to knot the score but Gramatica's 43-yard field goal was wide to the right.

The Bucs punt block team continued to make huge plays for a second straight week after blocking a punt at St. Louis on Monday night. The Tampa Bay defense forced a three-and-out on the Bengals second series when defensive end Simeon Rice dropped Kitna for an 8-yard loss on third-and-6 from the Cincinnati 37-yard line.

Cornerback Ronde Barber, who started out as a blocker on Cincinnati gunner Kaesviharn, slid down and came off the edge untouched to block the punt of rookie Nick Harris. The ball was scooped up by reserve tight end Todd Yoder, who rambled 11 yards for his first professional touchdown. That gave the Bucs their first lead at 7-3, which they took into halftime.

There were two noteworthy halftime statistics for the Bucs. The first was that Johnson had a perfect first half, completing all 12 of his passes for 97 yards to six different receivers. The second was the sack recorded by Rice extended the Bucs streak to 39 straight games with a sack.

The Bucs took the opening kickoff in the second half and drove 55 yards in seven plays to stretch their lead to 10-3 with a Gramatica field goal. Johnson completed his first two passes, but finally threw an incompletion on a second-and-11 to end the streak at 14 straight passes caught. After the drive stalled, Gramatica split the uprights from 38 yards out from the right hash with 11:54 left in the third quarter.

After the Tampa Bay defense forced a three-and-out on the Bengals next series, the Bucs marched down the field only to come away empty again. On a third-and-6 from the Bengals 28-yard line, Johnson hit Alstott, who had three grabs for 31 yards to go with six carries for 24 yards, on a crossing route for the first down, but Bengals cornerback Robert Bean knocked the ball free. The fumble was scooped up by Carter at the Bengals 18-yard line and returned to the Cincinnati 30-yard line. Another opportunity for the Bucs offense to put points on the board went down the drain.

The Bucs defense forced another three-and-out giving the offense the football again, but Tampa Bay still couldn't cash in. On a fourth-and-two from the Bengals 35-yard line Tampa Bay disdained the field goal to try for the first down. Johnson tried to hit Green on an out route, but the ball was knocked away by Bengals corner Mark Roman.

Once again the Bucs offense allowed a golden opportunity to pass them by. The only question now was whether these missed scoring opportunities would catch up to the Bucs in the fourth quarter. And they did.

The Bucs defense continued to bottle up the Cincinnati offense. On a third-and-ten from the Cincinnati 46-yard line cornerback Donnie Abraham stepped in front of a Kitna pass intended for Ron Dugans on a deep out at the Bucs 34-yard line. That pick set a franchise record of 15 straight games with at least one interception. The Pro Bowl cornerback returned the ball 15 yards to the Bucs 49-yard line giving the offense another scoring opportunity which they finally cashed in with a 48-yard Gramatica field goal to increase the Bucs advantage to 13-3 with 12:29 left in regulation.

On the very next series, the Bucs had a chance to salt the game away. On a second-and-7 from their own 33-yard line Kitna was sacked and stripped of the football by Rice. Sapp attempted to scoop up the pigskin and had a clear path to the end zone, but teammate Anthony McFarland made a lunge for the ball and inadvertently knocked it out of Sapp's hands. The ball was recovered by Bengals left tackle Richmond Webb and the Bucs saw another chance to put away the Bengals go astray.

After Gramatica missed a 51-yard field goal to the left, the Bengals closed the gap to 13-6 with another Rackers field goal, this time from 41 yards. The ball kissed off the right upright and caromed between the goal posts to complete a seven play, 36 yard drive in 1:54 seconds.

The Bengals had one last-gasp effort to tie the football game. After the Cincinnati defense stopped the Bucs on a three-and-out when the Pewter Pirates had two cracks to make four yards, the Bengals moved 64 yards in 14 plays to tie the game with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter. Kitna hit Dillon with a 6-yard scoring strike, but the last two yards was all Dillon's grit and determination to get over the goal line much to the chagrin of Jackson and other Bucs defenders. Rackers' kick tied the score at 13-13 and sent the game to overtime where Dillon's fumble would prove costly.

The Bucs did just enough to win the football game. Coming off an emotional Monday night win at St. Louis, a letdown was expected playing against the 4-6 Bengals. At least they caught themselves before the letdown became a loss that would have dropped the Bucs off the playoff radar screen.

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