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Alstott makes most of start

The little-used fullback accounts for more than half the Bucs' rushing yards, scores two TDs.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2002

The little-used fullback accounts for more than half the Bucs' rushing yards, scores two TDs.

TAMPA -- Even in the annals of great Mike Alstott moments, and there have been countless through the past seven years, this one was unprecedented.

This was a performance that not only explains why Alstott has made five straight trips to the Pro Bowl, but also cements his reputation as one of the game's unique and most frightening weapons.

In a game in which the offense struggled for continuity through three quarters, Alstott's effort over the last 17 minutes, 10 seconds was remarkable. He finished with 126 yards on 17 carries and scored the Bucs' two touchdowns.

"Here's a guy who quietly, patiently goes about his business," coach Jon Gruden said. "There are not a lot of fullbacks that could have done what Mike did, let's just say that. He's in a three-point stance in the first half, in the second half he's in a two-point stance as a feature back. He's blocking, he's catching, he's running. He's playing hard and he's a big reason we won."

A big reason? Consider this: 121 of Alstott's yards came in the second half, 83 in the fourth quarter. Alstott had only 82 yards rushing entering the game.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," Alstott said. "I don't even know how to describe it. I'm getting goose bumps just thinking about it. It's a zone thing. I really don't recall how it felt. Things turn on and off, they really do. ... You don't hear the crowd, you don't hear anything. You just see and react."

Leading 10-0 with 2:10 left in the third quarter, the Bucs turned to the little-used Alstott to grind out the clock and deliver a few punishing blows on what likely was a tired Browns defense.

"You started seeing it in their eyes in the fourth quarter," right guard Cosey Coleman said. "You know in the first quarter, everyone was all fired up, but when the game was on the line, they didn't want no part of Alstott. They were hoping we would throw the ball. You can tell. They didn't want the A-Train up their gut."

The image of Alstott barreling over weary tacklers, with grass on his helmet and blood on his pants, is a familiar one. But, Sunday's effort was downright ridiculous.

"It's pretty simple, you go with who has the rhythm and who's hot and he was hot," running backs coach Kirby Wilson said. "He made some sick runs today. They had him pinned, bottled in sometimes, and what can you say about a guy like that to get out of that.

"He was in his groove, he was awesome. He showed today what he's made off and what he's all about. He made some special runs and I'm proud of him. I can't say enough about him."

What can be said and likely will be asked in the coming days is: How much will Sunday's performance encourage the Bucs to turn to their veteran fullback more often? Alstott said he's not going to worry about carries at Philadelphia this weekend.

"Whatever happens, I have no control over that," Alstott said. "All I can do is wait for the moment. That's the way I am. When I get my opportunities I want to make the best of them. I'm going to do whatever I can to make as many yards as I can to help this team. It was a special day, a great win for everyone and I'm just happy to be a part of it."

Part of the absence of Alstott can be explained by the Bucs' determined effort to get running back Michael Pittman going. Pittman has improved slowly and Sunday he chipped in 148 yards, including a 64-yard reception on the Bucs' third possession of the first quarter. That reception set up Alstott's first score, a 1-yard TD.

"That's what we have been hoping and planning on from the first day," Wilson said. "Pitt had some nice runs, his vision came to him at times and he had some nice cutbacks and some strong finishes going into tackles. They stepped up today and that was big for us."

If the strategy is to wear down the opponent with Pittman and bring Alstott to close the deal, it worked Sunday. And who is Alstott to argue?

"I'm just going to sit back and wait for my next opportunity," he said. "I'm not going to get into a controversy that I want the ball. There is no controversy between me and Michael, nothing whatsoever."

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