Warren Sapp and Co. limit pass-happy Cleveland to 194 yards.
By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2002
TAMPA -- Warren Sapp was dancing and prancing, strutting and hamming it up for the Raymond James Stadium crowd. The Browns could not always hear what he said, but they knew they were headed for trouble.
"When you get No. 99 going, guys feed off of that," Browns receiver Kevin Johnson said. "When we're playing from behind and that guy starts dancing, it makes it even tougher."
Sapp danced and the rest of the defense just stomped around, mostly on the Browns, delivering the kind of suffocating performance in a 17-3 win that is becoming routine.
The Browns entered as one of the league's most prolific offensive teams, but left frustrated and a tad demoralized after their worst offensive effort this season.
"Tampa Bay's defense is clearly one of the league's absolute very best," coach Butch Davis said. "The recipe to beat their defense is not coming out there and trying to go 13 plays and go 85 yards. It just doesn't happen. You have to get some good field position, you have to get a couple of big plays, and they're hard to get big plays against because of the talent of their defensive line and the guys they play in their secondary."
Except for the fourth quarter, the Browns did little against a defense that has not allowed an offensive TD in the past three games and remains the league leader in fewest points allowed (56).
Cleveland entered with the league's fifth-best passing attack (269.2 yards) and the 10th-best overall offense (351.4), but mustered 194 total yards, 134 passing.
Last week the Browns had 433 yards against a highly-ranked Ravens defense. But the Browns said the Bucs defense was too talented, too fast and too good for them to put up their usual offensive numbers. Before their last drive, which covered 58 yards, the Browns' longest march was 27 yards.
"For us to beat a defense like Tampa, we've got to play (darn) near mistake-free. We've got to be on top of our game," right tackle Ryan Tucker said. "I tip my hat to those guys because they're playing good football."
The Browns (2-4) tried spreading the field to open passing lanes, but the Bucs usually closed any seams. The Browns tried to run, but Tampa Bay squashed that, too, holding Cleveland to 60 yards, one short of the Browns' season low.
"They've been doing the same thing since Monte Kiffin has been the (defensive) coordinator. They line up and they challenge you because they've got six, seven or eight guys who've been to the Pro Bowl," Davis said.
"And their scheme is such that they are going to keep things in front of them. They are not going to put guys on islands. You're not going to get them in a bunch of (man-to-man coverage) deals where one play is going to give up 75 yards."
Sapp triggered everything, the Browns said. He sacked quarterback Tim Couch twice and had six tackles.
"He's the cornerstone of that defense," Tucker said. "You've got to shut that guy down. When he makes big plays, everybody else feeds off of it and his energy is contagious and the whole defense just starts rallying around it and then they become some (tenacious players)."
Couch said the Bucs pressured him more than any team he has faced this season.
"Absolutely. They are the best pass rush in the league with Sapp, (Anthony) McFarland, (Simeon) Rice and (Greg) Spires, all those guys," he said. "It's not scary (facing them), but you know you've got to get rid of the ball because you know they're coming.
"You try to block them out and you don't want to look at the pass rush, but you know you've got some real good rushers coming at you."