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Quoth the Defense: Never Score

TAMPA BAY 25, BALTIMORE 0: With retribution for Sept. 8 in mind, the defense delivers a shutout, giving Jon Gruden his first win as a Buccaneer.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 16, 2002


TAMPA BAY 25, BALTIMORE 0: With retribution for Sept. 8 in mind, the defense delivers a shutout, giving Jon Gruden his first win as a Buccaneer.

BALTIMORE -- Safety John Lynch is the kind of stand-up guy who looks more people in the eye than an optometrist.

But he and the rest of the Bucs defense had trouble facing Jon Gruden Sept. 8 without feeling they were mostly responsible for spoiling his coaching debut in Tampa Bay.

"I think there was a feeling last week. Everyone was so nervous," Lynch said. "We went 0-1. What happens if we go 0-2? We've got the Rams coming to town. (Gruden) stood up (Saturday) night and said, basically, 'Go kick someone's tail. Go play to win.' Everyone heard him loud and clear."

The best ears belonged to the defense, which rewarded Gruden with two scores and the fifth shutout in Bucs history in a 25-0 victory against the Ravens on Sunday.

Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks preserved the shutout when he intercepted a pass from Ravens quarterback Chris Redman and returned it 97 yards for a touchdown with just more than a minute left.

It was pure gravy for Gruden, who watched Karl Williams return a first-quarter punt 56 yards for a touchdown.

Gruden was given a sideline drenching as time expired and Lynch presented him with the game ball for his inspirational pregame speech and first Bucs victory.

It was quite a contrast from the 26-20 overtime loss to New Orleans. On Sept. 8, the Bucs defense would not let the offense get on the field. On Sunday, the offense refused to get off.

Tampa Bay managed three field goals (36, 30 and 30 yards) by Martin Gramatica. But the Bucs held the ball for more than 20 minutes in the first half, keeping the defense fresh.

"We felt bad. For Jon's opening debut and we only get him the ball for four snaps in the first quarter," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "This guy's an offensive guru. But there's no offensive guru, Bill Walsh or any of them, that can do much when they get the ball for four snaps. You look at Jon's play list and he didn't even get started on it. We felt bad about it. Our defensive players felt bad about it.

"He challenged us (Saturday) night to step up. He said, 'I expect the defense to score."'

With the Bucs leading 13-0 to start the second half, the defense got on the board with a safety when Redman's fumble went out of bounds in the Ravens end zone.

It was a tough day for Redman, a first-year starter who wore black shoes as a tribute to Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas, who died Wednesday.

Redman completed 16 of 38 passes for 141 yards with an interception and was sacked three times. The Ravens averaged 2.8 yards and converted four of their 15 third downs.

Only twice did Baltimore mount a threat. But Ellis Wyms blocked a 55-yard field goal attempt by J.R. Jenkins on the final play of the first half and Brooks' interception of Redman's pass to tight end Todd Heap punctuated the Ravens' empty day.

"It's as thorough a beating as you're going to get," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Shutouts in the NFL are rare, but the Bucs weren't sticking their chests out too far. Redman's inexperience makes Baltimore run-dimensional and the Bucs held running back Jamal Lewis to 53 yards on 17 carries.

"With all due respect to the Ravens, this wasn't Kurt Warner and the Rams or Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers," Kiffin said. "This young man might be a really good quarterback someday. He's just not there yet. Sometimes it's not even about them. Our guys were ready to play."

The Bucs defense was motivated. Heading into the Sept. 23 showdown with the Rams, Tampa Bay couldn't afford to start 0-2. Players also were stung by speculation that their letdown against the Saints meant the defense is slipping.

"I actually take pride in that, that people expect so much out of us that as soon as we slip a little, they start thinking 'What's wrong?"' Lynch said. "That's not what it's about. It's about our standards, and my standard is higher than anyone could put on me. That will always be. I think that's the same way with this unit and this team. I think what you saw today was last week we had all three units play bad. Today, we had all three units pitch in for a win."

Imagine what the score would have been if the offense located the end zone. Tampa Bay had the ball in the red zone three times and came away with field goals. But one of the drives was a 17-play odyssey that began at the Bucs 6-yard line and melted 8:25 off the clock.

Quarterback Brad Johnson, who benefited from better protection than in the loss to the Saints, was 24-for-21 for 211 yards and kept the Bucs turnover-free for the second week. But he never passed into the end zone.

"We had more dialed up. We actually did," he said. "I might have had one chance to throw it down in there. The other stuff, the big-time throw we made was to Keenan McCardell on a deep curl. I might've had a chance for Keyshawn (in the end zone), but they play a two-deep zone. And when you look at all the film, there wasn't much film to watch on these guys because people hadn't been in the red zone.

"It's kind of a tribute to ourselves, I hate to say, just getting down there because that's how good they are."

After the game, Gruden reflected on his first win for Tampa Bay.

"It's the first win, you know. It's not a lot of time in the NFL to be sentimental," Gruden said. "And you've got the St. Louis Rams waiting on you."

Maybe that will turn into a shootout. But for Gruden on Sunday, the shutout felt just fine.

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