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Defense silences its critics

Bucs limit Ravens to 173 total yards, including 55 rushing, sack QB three times, Lynch gets a safety and Brooks adds a TD.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 16, 2002

BALTIMORE -- They heard all the whispers and read all the criticisms.

And they took offense to them all.

But deep in their hearts, the members of the Bucs defense knew the effort against the Saints on Sept. 8 could not be repeated Sunday against the Ravens.

It wasn't their standard and wouldn't be tolerated.

So before any more suggestions surface that the defense is old, slow and overrated, the Bucs offer up their brilliant effort against the Ravens.

Tampa Bay's defense dominated like it had so many times. It stuffed the run, sacked the passer, ran around making plays, knocked balls out of the air and scored a safety.

And at the end, as if to punctuate a good meal with a great dessert, linebacker Derrick Brooks intercepted Chris Redman on the Bucs 3-yard line and ran 97 yards for a touchdown to cap the shutout.

"You can't (measure what that means), a shutout is always something special," Brooks said. "There are only five in franchise history, and there has been a lot of good defense played around here.

"It's no secret that we played with a little chip on our shoulder every time we heard we're getting a little old, or this, that and the other. I get a little angry sometimes. Hopefully, we're not going to talk about it. Our play will go out and prove it."

The Bucs did just that. They limited the Ravens to 173 total yards, including 55 rushing. They sacked Redman three times and chased him around the pocket. In addition to the 29-year-old Brooks' interception, John Lynch, the safety who turns 31 on Sept. 25, had a safety.

"Not bad for a bunch of overrated old guys, huh?" Lynch said. "I kept telling the guys, it's not about that, it's about our standard of play. To be honest, we were upset by the way we played last week. It wasn't our standard, and the only way to change that was to go out with that terrible taste in our our mouth and call on our pride to bounce back."

It was done in a manner fans should have recognized. In the past, the Bucs depended on speed rather than size. They banked on the one-gap defense and believed in the cover-two zone. To the delight of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, each proved successful against the Ravens.

"Anyone who says or thinks that John Lynch is too old to play or Derrick Brooks or Warren Sapp, they need to take a good look at this tape," Kiffin said. "I don't care if Lynch is 28, 32 or 42, he can still flat-out play this game and you can mark that down."

And while the defense's success was a team product, few can argue with the individual effort of 27-year-old cornerback Ronde Barber.

Barber, selected to his first Pro Bowl last season, wreaked havoc in the secondary by batting away balls and making critical tackles.

"He's a Pro Bowl corner and I think to me Ronde is on the cutting edge of becoming one of the best defenders in the league at that position," coach Jon Gruden said. "He's a physical guy. Not only does he cover people, but he makes some very physical tackles for a corner."

Barber said he was particularly proud of how the defense responded after giving ground to the Saints in a 26-20 overtime loss in the home opener.

"We let ourselves down last week," said Barber, who finished with five tackles and six passes defensed. "We came out to play with a purpose. I'm not going to say I was the only one playing last week, but everyone came to play today.

"I don't know if we were on our heels. I think (the Saints) came out with a plan and attacked us and we couldn't counter. We got hit with a right, and it damned near knocked us out in the first round. I think (Sunday) we buckled up and showed some people what we're about."

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