Bucs Achieve Air Superiority Against Bengals

September 29 - Tampa Bay fell behind 7-0 but scored 35 unanswered points behind a strong passing game to bury Cincinnati for the Buccaneers' third-straight win. Quarterback Brad Johnson threw a season-high three touchdown passes, including one to receiver Keenan McCardell, who posted a 100-yard day, against the Bengals.

CINCINNATI - The Cincinnati Bengals fired the first salvo against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when middle linebacker Brian Simmons intercepted quarterback Brad Johnson's slant pass, which was intended for Keyshawn Johnson, and raced 51 yards for a touchdown to give his overmatched team hope that it could muster an upset against the heavily favored Pewter Pirates.

But all Simmons' interception did was delay the inevitable as Brad Johnson and the Buccaneers unleashed an aerial attack that the Bengals simply could not keep up with.

Tampa Bay beat Cincinnati 35-7, posting three touchdown passes, one on the ground, and its now typical defensive score to keep the Bengals winless at 0-4.

On the opening drive the Buccaneers moved efficiently down the field. The Tampa Bay offense mixed the run and the pass effectively and drove the football easily into Bengals territory.

But the drive stalled when running back Michael Pittman lost the handle on the football at the Cincinnati 26-yard line where it was recovered by cornerback Artrell Hawkins.

The Bengals drew first blood with 2:23 left in the opening stanza and did it without the help of their offense. Johnson tried to throw a quick slant, but Bengals defensive coordinator Mark Duffner had the perfect call to stop that particular route.

The Bengals went with a zone blitz and slanted their defensive line to the Buccaneers left. Blitzing linebacker Takeo Spikes went to the B gap between guard Kerry Jenkins and tackle Roman Oben allowing defensive end Justin Smith to drop into the flat to the Bucs left.

Simmons, who was spying Johnson and reading his eyes, moved right in front of the receiver and was hit right in the numbers. He went untouched to the end zone and a successful conversion by kicker Neil Rackers put Cincy up 7-0.

The Bengals ran a myriad of stunts, particularly zone and trailer blitzes, which forced the Buccaneers to go exclusively with the passing game. The changeup that Cincy ran was that they would go with a man under coverage in their zone blitz package, and that's why head coach Jon Gruden became aware early in the game that the Cincinnati defensive game plan was to blitz hard and blitz often.

The Bucs leader wasn't about to try and go against a stacked deck so the plan was to throw the football.

"They were blitzing every play," Gruden said. "I mean they were coming at us from the four corners of the world. If we have to throw it, by God, we're going to throw it. We do have some ideas and we hope to get the running game going."

The Pewter Pirates took the lead on the first play of the second quarter. It was obvious that the Bucs offensive coaching staff believed they had picked up a tendency on the Cincinnati secondary and it was that they read the quarterback exclusively.

With that in mind, Johnson pumped to the left and that served two purposes. First, it pulled safety JoJuan Armour out of the middle and, second, it froze Spikes dropping back in the middle of the field. This allowed tight end Rickey Dudley to sneak down the seam and Johnson laid it right over the linebackers and in front of the deep coverage.

The 6-foot-6 former Ohio State Buckeye only had to straight arm the final Bengals defender inside the 5-yard line. That completed the 35-yard touchdown catch-and-run that tied the game at 7-7 after kicker Martin Gramatica converted his first of five extra points.

Tampa Bay jumped up 14-7 when the Bucs took advantage of an overanxious Cincinnati secondary. With Johnson split left, and wide receiver Keenan McCardell lined up in the slot, the Bucs took advantage of the Bengals' concern for the former University of Southern California Trojan.

Johnson ran a deep curl as McCardell ran an out pattern and turned it up the sideline. Three Cincy defenders went to the Buccaneers' leading receiver in 2001 when Johnson pumped faked, which allowing McCardell to run by the coverage down the sidelines. Johnson laid the ball out to a wide open McCardell and it completed the 65-yard touchdown pass and run that is the longest of the season for the Bucs.

The Bucs extended the lead right before halftime with its third straight game with an interception for a touchdown. This week, it was middle linebacker Sheldon Quarles that took the ball to house from 25 yards out with just under a minute left before halftime.

Cincinnati quarterback Akili Smith tried to hit wide receiver Ron Dugans over the middle but, instead, hit Quarles, who was spying the signal caller. Quarles raced untouched for the touchdown, but not without some trepidation.

As he slowed up just before the goal line to celebrate, he nearly had the ball knocked from his grasp by wide receiver Chad Johnson who was racing to stop Quarles from scoring. Luckily, Quarles had just broke the plane of the end zone as the ball was knocked free and a "Don Beebe-Leon Lett" moment was avoided. Tampa Bay went into halftime with a 21-7 margin.

The Bucs continued their scoring onslaught through the air in the second half. Brad Johnson, standing in the pocket against a heavy Cincinnati zone blitz, delivered the football to Ken Dilger a little low. The Tampa Bay tight end made a nice running catch, and after bouncing off Smith and two other potential tacklers, made it to the promised land to notch the Buccaneers' third passing touchdown of the game.

Normally, the strategy of the Bucs offense with a 28-7 lead would be to run the football. But with the Bengals putting eight, and sometimes nine players in the box to stuff Tampa Bay's ground game, that was not possible. The Bucs had to continue to throw the football to keep possession and they were still somewhat successful.

The Bucs closed out the scoring after a another turnover and it was one that was caused by incessant time on the practice field. Every practice, defensive line coach-assistant head coach Rod Marinelli works all his defensive linemen on pass rush techniques and stripping the football by hitting down on the passing arm of the quarterback. All those hours of tedious repetition of the minutest details came to fruition when defensive tackle Warren Sapp recorded his second sack of the day and slapped the ball from Smith's grasp that was recovered by fellow defensive lineman Ellis Wyms.

The Bucs offense made the Bengals pay for that error when running back Mike Alstott crashed in from a yard out to make the final score 35-7.

Tampa Bay's defense held the Bengals to just 48 yards in the first half, and scoreless for the game to help the Bucs move to 3-1 on the season. With losses by the undefeated New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers on Sunday, the Bucs are tied for the top spot in the NFC South division.


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