Offensively, the Bucs were not spectacular, but Jon Gruden's troops were efficient, especially in the first half. The special teams coverage units were a little off in that they allowed a touchdown when punter Tom Tupa had a punt blocked for just the second time in his career and it was taken to the house. The return units were a touch better, but the field goal group left three points on the field when Tupa bobbled the snap on a chip shot field goal attempt by kicker Martin Gramatica. On the defensive side of the football, the Bucs again, as they have in their 18 previous contests, just shut down the opposition's offense.
Cornerback Ronde Barber, who is normally a player that likes to let his actions do the talking, was especially vociferous after the victory. He did not mince words and was not bashful in his praise of the group as a whole.
. "It was a dominating performance," Barber stressed. "Other than that little stuff, the blocked punt and a long pass, we dominated the entire game. We came into this thing saying we were the best and we were not scared to say it and we went out and proved it. We are, absolutely, the best team in football. This is what should have happened."
The main goal of the Tampa Bay defense this season has been to stop the run. In Super Bowl XXXVII they erased Oakland's running game. The Pewter Pirates held the Oakland Raiders to a miniscule 18 yards on the ground in the first half and a measly one yard rushing in the second half.
The Buccaneers, like they have done in the past two playoff games against the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles, turned the ball over early via the interception route. Quarterback Brad Johnson tried to hit wide receiver Keenan McCardell down the right side, but the ball fluttered into the hands of cornerback Charles Woodson for the interception. The Bucs defense was staring at a short field, but they held the Raiders offense. Quarterback Rich Gannon was sacked by defensive end Simeon Rice on third down. This forced the Silver & Black to settle for a 40-yard field goal as kicker Sebastian Janikowski staked the Raiders to an early 3-0 lead.
Those three points were the last points the Raiders would put up in the first half as the Bucs were able to score 20 consecutive points to take a 20-3 lead at intermission. Tampa Bay answered the Raiders' three with a 26-yard field goal of their own by kicker Martin Gramatica and then another from 43 yards out after the first of two interceptions by Super Bowl Most Valuable Player free safety Dexter Jackson.. Those two boots were followed by a short two-yard run by Mike Alstott to make it 13-3. This was set up when punt returner Karl Williams gave the Bucs good field position with a 27-yard scamper to the Raiders 25-yard line.
Then, with less than a minute to go before halftime, Tampa Bay scored a huge touchdown to extend its lead to 20-3. The Bucs went 77 yards in 10 plays and, for all practical purposes, put an end to the outcome of Super Bowl XXXVII. Johnson, who had a draw-play called, but audibled to a pass on the advice of center Jeff Christy, found McCardell just over the goal line on the right sidelines. Johnson threw the ball short and to the outside, which gave Woodson no chance to break up the pass.
Scoring in the last minute of the first half was a huge advantage. McCardell realized how important the touchdown reception was with only 30 ticks left before intermission.
"That was a big one," McCardell stated. "We wanted to go in with a score before the half. We wanted to get three points or seven. Brad saw me one on one and he made a big play. He made the throw and I made the play. That was one of the plays that got us going into the half and gave us momentum to come out in the second half and play the way we did."
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the architect of the vaulted Tampa Bay defense, was quite pleased with his defense's performance.
"I'm not sure I've ever seen a better half of defense against a good offense like that first half," Kiffin exclaimed. "You are talking about a quarterback that hadn't thrown a lot of interceptions all year and we picked him off five times. That's a heck of an offense. Even with all that, we still had to hang in there and the offense had to put some drives at the end." The Buccaneers defense continued their mastery of the Raiders in the second half and the Bucs offense joined in as well. After a three-and-out by Oakland on their first series of the third quarter Tampa Bay marched 89 yards in 14 plays, but the biggest statistic of that drive was the fact that it took over half of the third quarter to do it. After 7:39 of clock time, Johnson hit McCardell again for his second TD grab and the Bucs moved to a 27-3 advantage. Then the Tampa Bay defense decided to enter the scoring column. The Bucs defense would score the final 21 points of the contest on interception returns for touchdowns. Cornerback Dwight Smith had two returns for TDs and that set a Super Bowl mark. His first, a 44-yarder, put the Buccaneers up 34-3. His second, a 50-yarder, ended the scoring with two seconds left in the game. Those two picks sandwiched the 44-yard touchdown return by NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks at the 1:18 mark of the fourth quarter. Oakland did try to mount a comeback late in the third quarter but it was too little and too late. Gannon hit wide receiver Jerry Porter for a 39-yard touchdown. Plus, linebacker Tim Johnson blocked a punt that was recovered and returned for six points by linebacker Eric Johnson. Gannon also hit wide receiver Jerry Rice for a 48-yard TD strike to get Raiders to within 13 points with 6:06 to play, but the outcome was already determined. It was no surprise to anyone who follows the Bucs on a regular basis that the defense was the story of Super Bowl XXVII. They continued to be the most dominating unit on either side of the football in the NFL in 2002. Have we been watching a defense for the ages? Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice had a short but succinct answer to that question. "I think so," Rice said. "At this point the answer is yes. We showed today how great our defense is and we will go down as one of the best of all time."
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