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Bucs feel at home with crowd support

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 7, 2002


ATLANTA -- Tampa Bay fans may not have been out in as great a number as past games at the Georgia Dome, but they made themselves heard. Loud and clear.

ATLANTA -- Tampa Bay fans may not have been out in as great a number as past games at the Georgia Dome, but they made themselves heard. Loud and clear.

A Bucs contingent estimated at 10,000, with encouragement from defensive tackle Warren Sapp, began a familiar Raymond James Stadium chant: "TAMPA ... BAY" as the defense made some crucial stops. After receiver Keyshawn Johnson caught Brad Johnson's pass for a 76-yard touchdown that gave Tampa Bay the lead for good, there was another deafening roar.

"It's something I have never, ever experienced," said running back Michael Pittman, a former Cardinal. "It's great to see that. Our fans traveled down here to Atlanta and we probably have some fans right here in Atlanta. Sometimes when we made big plays, it seemed like we were at home."

"It was pretty unbelievable," said former Giants receiver Joe Jurevicius. "Once the Falcons were out of the game, to hear our crowd get into it, I almost had to do a double take. To see the majority of the fans here as our fans, was a great feeling. They are loud at home and loud on the road. It's like having that 12th man with us."

BIG PLAY, BIG TURNAROUND: He has had a steady second season as a starter and free safety Dexter Jackson is quickly making his presence felt. Jackson's jarring tackle of Falcons tight end Brian Kozlowski on a fake punt at the start of the fourth quarter was crucial. The ball popped out and was intercepted by nickel back Dwight Smith.

Down 10-6 and facing fourth and 9, punter Chris Mohr's pass seemed to be heading for an open Kozlowski for a 16-yard gain. The Falcons would have had the ball on the Bucs 47.

Jackson changed that.

"It was big," Jackson said. "We were only up four points and if they had completed it they would have been way downfield. Dwight and I were outside and I looked into (Mohr's) eyes and could see he really wasn't himself. I realized it was a fake and (Kozlowski) was back there by himself. So, I just ran at him and, well, let him know. We got there at the same time. I didn't see it because my helmet came down over my eyes."

SPEAKING OF MR. SMITH: In his second season, Smith is finally getting quality minutes at nickel cornerback and Sunday he got his first career interceptions. His second pick came late in the fourth when he stepped in front of a Doug Johnson pass intended for Shawn Jefferson.

"The first one was all (Jackson)," Smith said. "He made the play, hit the dude and the ball was out there and I got to make the play. But I do feel great to be getting the opportunity. Last year, I was happy to be playing special teams, but now I can be a bigger part of it and I can really help the outcome. It's a little bit better feeling ... I kept both balls."

DUNN UNDONE: It turned out to be precisely what the Bucs defense wanted and precisely what former Buc Warrick Dunn feared. Sunday's first meeting between Dunn and his former teammates was decidedly lopsided in favor of the Bucs. Dunn, who signed a six-year $28.5-million contract with Atlanta in March, had 14 yards on nine carries.

"If you watch (the Bucs defensive line) on film, you know that they can play and they came to play (Sunday)," Dunn said. "I don't think I got into a flow. As a team, we did not play well enough to win. Their defensive line was the key and they showed why today."

Although Dunn is friendly with most of his former teammates, none wanted to give him any bragging rights.

"Once he put the uniform on today, there were no feelings (for him)," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "We were out there competing. It was weird the first time I tackled him ... but other than that, once the ball was snapped, he was another running back."

THAT'S WHY THEY GOT HIM: Receiver Keenan McCardell's 9-yard reception at the end of the third quarter helped move the Bucs to the 38-yard line and was his 600th career reception.

INJURY REPORT: Safety John Lynch strained his right knee in the fourth quarter and was replaced by John Howell. He will be re-evaluated today. Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland suffered a right foot sprain in the first half but played the rest of the game. Fullback Mike Alstott has a right ankle sprain, but it does not appear to be serious.

BUCS BITS: Falcons QB Michael Vick entered Sunday's game having rushed for 184 yards on 24 carries (7.7) and without an interception. He was held to 1 yard on one carry and was not intercepted. ... Former Bucs and Falcons coach Leeman Bennett was at the game. ... The Bucs are 4-1, breaking a six-year string of starting 3-4. ... R&B and soul legend James Brown gave a concert after the game.

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