It was the second road shutout in franchise history, the first being a 35-0 shellacking of the Cincinnati Bengals in the final game of the 1998 season, and it was just what the doctor ordered after a subpar opening game performance.
It was obvious from the opening play that the Tampa Bay defense wanted to atone for that exhibition and head coach Jon Gruden could sense that early in the contest.
"They really did," Gruden said. "I thought that they played tremendous. They are well coached and well trained. They play together because it¹s always a collective production when you get a shutout. The offense doesn't turn the ball over and you get good play from your special teams. You put your defense in some real good situations in terms of where you give the offense the ball. It was a good team effort and our defense was tremendous."
The lackluster performance in the beginning of the game by all phases of the football team last week against the Saints was a major concern. It was imperative that the Pewter Pirates didn't repeat the same script this week against the Ravens and Gruden made that perfectly clear to his charges this week.
"We needed to do this," Gruden said. "We had to have the game. That was the theme around here. Come in here and win on the road and play to our capabilities. I thought, to a large degree, we were able to do that. We have some guys that have a lot of pride, obviously. The big thing is that we have to get over the newness to one another. We have to respond to game day. We have to play better. We have to play more emotionally and more together. Find a way to win and start fast. I thought the opening drive offensively and the three-and-out on defense as well as a long scoring drive really set the stage."
The Bucs offense took the opening kickoff and took 7:18 off the clock on 12 plays before drawing first blood. Tampa Bay marched right down the field, mixing the run and the pass effectively, to take a 3-0 lead. Quarterback Brad Johnson was a perfect five-of-five on the inaugural drive of the game, and finished the day an impressive 24-of-31 for 211 yards. Running back Michael Pittman had a big third down run on a sweep to the right to secure the initial first down of the series. The drive stalled when Johnson hit running back Mike Alstott in the left flat on third down but "The A-Train" came up short of the sticks. Kicker Martin Gramatica then slid a 36-yard field goal from the left hash mark just inside the right upright to give the Buccaneers an early lead midway through the first quarter.
Johnson started out completing his first eight aerials and quickly got into a rhythm. He felt that was all due to the protection he received from his offensive line.
"As much as we watched film on Baltimore they are an extremely tough defense," Johnson said. "They only gave up six in preseason and 10 the first game. We knew we were going to have our hands full. We came out today and were unbelievable on third down conversions. The offensive line did a great job giving me pass protection out there. We just picked them apart all day long. I threw three or four balls away but we pretty much dominated the game.
"When you look at it, our field position wasn't good. We were almost always at our 20-yard line. We made some extremely long drives. That set us up for a couple field goals. When you play against a team like Baltimore's defense you have to do that. That's the way the game was going. I'm extremely proud of our offense and our team."
The Bucs upped their lead late in the opening stanza. Karl Williams took a Dave Zastudil punt at his own 44-yard line. Williams went left for a step and then headed to the right before coming to a complete stop to set up his blockers. He then sidestepped linebacker J.R Johnson and great blocks by Ronde Barber on linebacker Bart Scott along with Al Singleton on safety Chad Williams got the former Texas A&M-Kingsville product to the right sideline where the Tampa Bay punt return team had set up a wall.
All Williams had left to accomplish was to stutter step around Zastudil and he went the rest of the way untouched with a convoy of blockers for his franchise-leading fifth career punt return touchdown. Gruden believed that all phases of the special teams were a huge momentum boost and he isn't afraid to put front line players there.
"That was a big play," Gruden said. "Karl Williams, we know he has this ability, makes a big play to ignite us. I thought our coverages were good and Tom Tupa really hammered the ball. We addressed our PAT and field goal protection and gave Gramatica some good looks too.
"Warren Sapp, whether it's our goal line offense or PAT and field goal protection, is a part of that. He's part of the solution. That's what you do when you have a need or you have a weakness. You have to lean on your best players and Sapp is one of the guys we'll lean on."
Even though the offense didn't come away with touchdowns they were able to put up points early in the game. That set the tempo early and Gruden was happy to see the offense come away with points after long time consuming drives.
The Bucs added a 30-yard Gramatica field goal to go up 13-0 in the second quarter and stopped the only scoring threat that the Ravens could mount right before halftime. Ravens kicker J.R. Jenkins tried a 55-yard field goal, but his attempt was blocked by defensive tackle Chartric Darby. Defensive end Simeon Rice tried to return the football, but was tackled as time expired in the second quarter.
The Tampa Bay defense put up nine points in the second half sandwiched around Gramatica's third field goal of the game -- another 30-yard blast.
On the first play of the third quarter running back Jamal Lewis fumbled and the ball ricocheted off numerous players before it struck the pylon on the goal line in the Baltimore end zone resulting in a safety.
Late in the fourth quarter, linebacker Derrick Brooks intercepted quarterback Chris Redman and returned it 97 yards for a score. It was the second longest interception return for a touchdown in franchise history, coming up a yard short of the 98 yarder turned in by linebacker Shelton Quarles last season against the Packers, and pushed the final score at 25-0 in favor of Tampa Bay and preserved the shutout.
The Bucs offense, though it didn't find the end zone, was productive and efficient. The Ravens switched constantly from a 3-4 to a four-man front in an effort to confuse the Tampa Bay offense line. It was all for naught in that Tampa Bay was able to adjust to the ever-changing defensive fronts that Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike Nolan threw at them.
Having the original starters on the right side of the offensive line intact was a big plus for the Bucs. Right guard Cosey Coleman returned after a preseason injury and right tackle Kenyatta Walker was brought back after being exiled to the inactive list in the opening game. Gruden felt their return was a huge factor in the improvement in the Tampa Bay offense.
Tampa Bay returns home next week to face the 0-2 St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football in a critical National Football Conference tilt at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs have won the last two Monday night games against the Rams.
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