Let me say how great it is to be wrong! Tampa Bay's offensive line took care of business and absolutely stoned Philadelphia's defensive front, which I thought was going to be a mismatch that favored the Eagles. Left tackle Roman Oben made Hugh Douglas a non-factor and mostly blocked him one-on-one. A healthy Kerry Jenkins had his second-straight great performance, and credit right guard Cosey Coleman for gutting it out in the second half after leaving in the first half with a sprained knee.
I thought there were two huge plays that were keys to the Bucs' win. The first was Mike Alstott's touchdown in the first quarter that was set up by Joe Jurevicius' 71-yard catch-and-run. That touchdown stunned the Eagles defense, who had held the Bucs offense without a touchdown in the three previous games at Veterans Stadium, and gave the Bucs defense and offense a huge confidence boost, especially after Philly raced out to a 7-0 lead.
The second big play was Simeon Rice's sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery right before halftime as the Eagles were driving into scoring territory. That turnover killed any momentum the Eagles had, kept the score 17-10 at the half in favor of the Bucs and turned the Philadelphia crowd against the Eagles. The boo birds came out immediately and even booed halftime entertainers Ja Rule and Ashanti. Eagles fans are low class scum. I pray that any Bucs fans didn't get beat up leaving the stadium.
Of course, Ronde Barber had a big play, too. His 92-yard interception return for a touchdown was perhaps the biggest and best all-time play in Buccaneers history. Barber had a phenomenal day, as did the entire Bucs defense, who befuddled Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and shut down running back Duce Staley.
Jon Gruden thoroughly outcoached Andy Reid, who was named the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year last week. I thought that Reid was using the exact same game plan that the Eagles had used to beat the Bucs in Week 7. He wanted to rely on his defense and Brian Mitchell for field position, wait for the Bucs to make a mistake on offense and then take advantage of that with a conservative approach on offense.
Gruden came in with some new wrinkles on offense and took advantage of the Eagles linebackers on crossing patterns with receivers and backs. He also got the tight ends involved on play action passes on the flanks. After giving up two big kickoff returns to Brian Mitchell, Gruden ordered the special teams to squib kick the ball to Mitchell on subsequent kickoffs. A superb coaching job for the entire Bucs coaching staff.
I like the Bucs' chances of beating the Oakland Raiders. Their defensive front is just as aggressive as Philly's is, but Tampa Bay's offensive line is playing focused football and has proven it can hold up against a physical unit and get the job done. Let's not forget that Jon Gruden knows the ins and outs of the Raiders offense and defense having coached in Oakland for four years. He knows their personnel and their strengths and weaknesses. That will end up being the winning edge as Tampa Bay not only goes to its first Super Bowl, but wins it.
LEO HAGGERTY – Pewter Report Managing Editor:
"Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. You can sit and talk until you are blue in the face but the team that wins the turnover battle will, in almost all cases, win the football game. The Eagles were able to come up with an interception but could not convert it into points. The Bucs had three takeaways, two fumble recoveries and an interception return for a touchdown. The Eagles are good but not that good. They could overcome those huge mistakes and came out on the short end of the score."
"The Bucs not only took the crowd out of the game but, by midway through the third quarter, the Pewter Pirates had the Eagle faithful booing their own team. It was a definite case of the pressure put on the players by the TV and radio media being to much to take. They weren¹t just playing for themselves but the were playing for a whole city. That was too much to bear and the Birds cracked under that pressure. When you heard Brian Dawkins talk about how the week has crawled and he¹s ready to ploay now and it¹s only Friday you could see that the pressure was becoming unbearable."
"With Jon Gruden at the helm the Bucs are 2-0 in games where the temperature at kickoff is below 40 degrees. I think that demon as been exorcised. These are not you father¹s Buccaneers. They have a quite confidence and a swagger about them. There isn¹t a whole lot of trash-talking done during the week and they are letting their play speak for itself. The one team that has come in under the radar screen is the Pewter Pirates. That won¹t happen against the Oakland Raiders but, when I pick the team that I think will win, I¹ll follow the old coaching postulate that offensive sells tickets and defense wins championships."
JIM FLYNN – Pewter Report Assistant Editor:
"Congratulations to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers!"
"If you ever questioned why Tampa Bay gave up two drafts picks and $8-million to Oakland in exchange for Jon Gruden, you received some very strong answers during the Bucs' 27-10 win over Philadelphia. Gruden called an outstanding game against Philly. Gruden simply outcoached Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid. He did a nice job of motioning players on the line of scrimmage in order to create mismatches, especially in the flat."
"Kudos to Gruden for not getting too conservative near his own goal line. The Bucs' offense was pinned there twice on Sunday, but Gruden did a nice job of calling plays that allowed the offense to move the ball up the field. Gruden attacked, whereas former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy would have played it conservative and depended on his defense to bail the team out for the entire game."
"How big was Bucs wide receiver Joe Jurevicius' 70-yard catch? For a guy that was on an emotional roller coaster all week long due to his newborn son being sick, he delivered for the Bucs in a big way. Good for him. Jureviucius' catch set up Tampa Bay's first offensive touchdown and once that happened, the Bucs received a serious and much-needed boost of confidence."
"Although they settled for yet another field goal, the fact that Tampa Bay countered Philadelphia's touchdown on the first offensive series of the game was huge. With Brian Mitchell's huge kick return at the beginning of the game, it would have been easy for the Bucs to cripple in chaos. But the team never panicked, which allowed them to survive Philly's initial burst."
"Shame on those people who did not vote Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber into the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive season. Barber had one of the most impressive individual performances that I've ever seen in a playoff game. Yes, the Bucs had a 10-point lead with under 5:00 remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles were driving the field and a score would have made it an interesting ending. But Barber's 92-yard interception return for a touchdown put the Bucs up 27-10 and assured the Bucs a win and its first-ever trip to the Super Bowl."
"Some people might feel like the Oakland Raiders matchup well against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I picked against the Bucs on Sunday and I was more than happy to be wrong. I'm not sure I can pick against the Bucs next Sunday in Super Bowl XXXVII. I can't help but feel like they're destined to win it all. It should be a very good game, but I think Gruden's familiarity with Oakland gives the Bucs the edge in this one."
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