For the first time in six outings the Bucs unleashed a potent rushing attack in a 17-3 destruction of the Browns inside Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay accumulated 186 yards on the ground with Alstott leading the way with 126 yards on 17 carries and the only two touchdowns of the contest. Most of the yardage, 145 of them to be exact, came in the last hour and the A-Train was responsible for 121 himself.
On the Bucs' first possession they marched down the field to take a quick 7-0 lead at 9:01 of the opening period. The big play of the drive was a 64-yard catch-and-run by running back Michael Pittman on a quick pass from quarterback Brad Johnson. Pittman took a short out in the right flat then broke the tackle of cornerback Daylon McCutcheon and rambled down the right sideline to the Browns' 5-yard line where he was corralled by safety Devon Bush. Two plays later, Alstott took it home from 1-yard out for his 43rd rushing touchdown and 53rd overall which are both franchise records. It marked the first time that the Pewter Pirates have scored a touchdown with their initial drive of the football game since December 23, 2001 against the New Orleans Saints.
Each team exchanged interceptions the next two times they had the football. Browns quarterback Tim Couch tried to hit short motioning wide receiver Andre` Davis on a quick stop route just past the first down marker in the middle of the field on a third-and-5. Strong safety John Lynch, who picked up Davis on the snap of the ball, got a hand on the football just before it arrived. The pigskin deflected into the waiting arms of cornerback Ronde Barber at the Browns 40-yard line for his first pick of the season, and the 17th of his Buccaneers career. Barber took it back nine yards to set the Bucs offense up with great field position at the Cleveland 31-yard line at 5:59 of the first stanza.
The Buccaneers didn't take advantage of the turnover and gave it back to the Browns with 4:17 left in the first period. Johnson tried to hit receiver Keyshawn Johnson going across the middle toward the left sideline on second-and-10 at the Cleveland 18-yard line. Browns strongside linebacker Darren Hambrick jarred the ball loose from Johnson and it settled into the waiting arms of Earl Little at the Cleveland 11-yard line. The backup safety, playing for the injured Robert Griffin, returned the football seven yards and the Browns avoided falling farther behind early in the football game.
The best scoring opportunity that the Browns had in the first 30 minutes came early in the second quarter. Punter Tom Tupa hit a low liner that was fielded 40 yards down the field by wide receiver Dennis Northcutt. The Cleveland wide out returned it 30 yards to the Bucs 41-yard line. After a holding penalty on reserve defensive lineman Buck Gurley moved the pigskin to the Tampa Bay 39-yard line Cleveland moved backwards after a 15 yard clipping penalty on wide receiver Kevin Johnson. The Browns never recovered and punter Chris Gardocki sailed one into the end zone from the Bucs' 41.
The Bucs closed out the scoring in the first half when kicker Martin Gramatica split the uprights from the right hash to extend the lead at the 2:41 mark of the second period. The field goal was set up when return man Karl Williams snaked his way down the right sideline. The 43-yard return put the Buccaneers offense in business at the Browns 27-yard line. Six plays later, Gramatica knocked it home from 33 yards out to make it a 10-0 Tampa Bay lead going into halftime.
The second half was all Buccaneers though the scoreboard doesn't reflect that fact. In reality the Bucs ran of 40 plays to the Browns 28 and had a time of possession advantage of 19:55 to 10:05 but Tampa Bay could only outscore Cleveland 7-3 in the final two quarters.
Both Buccaneers drives in the third quarter led to field goal attempts that misfired. The first was a 45-yarder by Gramatica after the Bucs offense had chewed 6:37 off the game clock at the beginning of the third quarter. Browns cornerback Anthony Henry came hard off the left edge and got a hand on the kick to thwart that attempt by Tampa Bay to extend their lead.
On the Pewter Pirates next possession, that started on the Buccaneers 43-yard line after Gardocki hooked a 27 yard punt, the Bucs again moved into field goal range. This time Gramatica pushed his 34 yard attempt wide left and the third quarter ended with Cleveland still trailing by only 10 points.
The Bucs extended their lead on the first play of the fourth quarter and this drive was the 2002 coming out party for Mike Alstott. No. 40 accounted for all 55 yards in five carries and the final run, a 17 yard change of direction beauty, was the result of an outstanding stalk block by Keyshawn Johnson on Henry. This allowed the former Purdue University standout to get outside the Browns secondary and score just inside the left pylon to give the Buccaneers a comfortable 17-0 cushion.
Cleveland finally dented the scoreboard on their next possession. Aided by a questionable 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on corner Dwight Smith the Brown move into Bucs territory for the first time in the second half. The drive stalled and kicker Phil Dawson put three up on the board for the Browns to cut the margin to 17-3 with left in the contest.
The rest of the fourth quarter belonged to the A-Train. The Pro Bowl fullback rushed 11 times for 83 yards against a completely spent Cleveland defense. The one play that was the epitome of the final period was when Alstott went off the right side and seven different guys in brown jerseys had a shot at the 248-pounder, but bounced off like rag dolls. Finally, Henry bulldogged him to the turf after a 19-yard rumble.
The Bucs, who have now won five-straight contest, defense continued to completely dominate the opposition. Since the opening day 26-20 loss to the Saints the Buccaneers have surrendered a total of 30 points in five games and seven of those came when Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Brian Simmons took an interception to the house.
If the defense continues to hit on all cylinders and, if the offense can sustain a rushing attack like they did today along with the special teams cleaning up the mistakes on the field goal team, this team becomes a very formidable opponent. A good barometer will be next week at Veterans Stadium against the Donovan McNabb led Philadelphia Eagles in what has turned out to be a battle for NFC early season supremacy.
Want to sound off on this topic? You can talk about it now with dozens of other Buc fans on the PewterReport.com Red Message Boards and/or you can talk about it with fans and the PewterReport.com insiders in the PewterReport.com Chat Room on Wednesday nights from 9-10 PM.
All PewterReport.com photos are courtesy of Pewter Report director of photography Cliff Welch unless otherwise noted.
Become an insider today with a subscription to Pewter Report or by becoming a Club Insider. You can also become a subscriber to Pewter Report by calling 1-800-881-BUCS(2827).
Looking for the largest selection of Bucs merchandise on the internet? Check out BucGear.com.