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Bucs fail to convert on scoring chances

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2002


TAMPA -- It could have been much worse for the Browns.

TAMPA -- It could have been much worse for the Browns.

The Bucs beat Cleveland 17-3 Sunday but converted just 2 of 7 opportunities in the red zone and had three field goals go awry.

"It's frustrating," said receiver Keenan McCardell, who caught one pass for 7 yards. "(Cleveland) was kind of in a funk. With a team that's clicking, you've got to take care of all those opportunities.

"We realize that we could have put the game away."

Up 10-0 with the ball to start the second half, Tampa Bay put together a sustained drive and advanced to the Browns 15.

On second and 9, quarterback Brad Johnson was flagged for intentional grounding.

Two plays later, Martin Gramatica's 45-yard field goal was blocked by South Florida graduate Anthony Henry.

After the Bucs defense forced a three-and-out, the offense again drove into the red zone. After an incompletion on third and 2, Gramatica missed wide left on a 34-yard field goal.

Gramatica made nine consecutive field goals, including a 33-yarder during the second quarter, before the miscues.

A 25-yarder with 1:43 left did not get off as long-snapper Morris Unutoa, signed Oct.1, snapped the ball low and holder Tom Tupa couldn't handle it.

"It was just one of those days," Gramatica said.

Johnson was not sharp either, completing 15 of 32 passes with an interception. He said he had never been penalized for intentional grounding during his 11-year career but had two called Sunday.

The first wiped out the last six seconds of the first half and prevented a long field goal attempt or desperation pass.

"We left a lot of points out there on the field," Johnson said.

"But I've had a lot of pretty days and ended up losing."

WHAT INJURIES?: The outlook last week for two key Bucs defenders did not look good, but tackle Anthony McFarland (ankle sprain) and safety John Lynch (sprained knee) started.

Lynch said he decided to play at about 11 a.m., extending his streak of consecutive starts to 65 games.

"All along, I just asked for the opportunity from Coach (Jon) Gruden to be able to wait until Sunday," Lynch said. "It didn't feel great, but it felt good enough to go."

Linebacker Shelton Quarles left midway through the first quarter after getting the wind knocked out of him but returned.

BIG RETURNS: With the Bucs defense stopping the Browns regularly, punt returner Karl Williams had plenty of opportunities. He returned six for 120 yards, including a 43-yarder that set up Gramatica's 33-yard field goal.

"I was feeling greedy. I felt we should have scored (on a return)," Williams said.

"But the opportunities will be there. The punt return team is going to get a lot of action when our defense is playing good."

LONG WEEK: Browns linebacker Darren Hambrick made two visits to the bay area.

He was in Dade City on Monday to respond to an Aug.2 warrant and spent two hours in jail before posting $10,000 bail.

The 1993 Pasco High graduate was charged with grand theft stemming from an incident in which he cashed two checks for $5,682.51 from Carolina, whom he played for last season.

Hambrick's agent, Derrick Harrison, said it was a misunderstanding and Hambrick returned the money. Hambrick returned to Cleveland for the rest of the week and started Sunday.

BARBER PICK: Cornerback Ronde Barber got his first interception in the first quarter and moved into a tie for fifth on the Bucs' all-time list with Harry Hamilton, Mark Cotney and Ricky Reynolds at 17.

The pass was tipped by Lynch.

"I needed a gift to get going," Barber said. "Right place, right time."

BUCS BITS: Michael Pittman's 64-yard reception during the first quarter was the third-longest by a Bucs running back. The longest was 74 yards from Vinny Testaverde to Gary Anderson against Green Bay on Oct.14, 1990. Warrick Dunn caught a 68-yarder from Shaun King on Dec.12, 1999, against Detroit. ... Defensive tackle Warren Sapp's two sacks gave him 701/2. Only Lee Roy Selmon (781/2) has more among Bucs. The Bucs have at least one sack in 50 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the league and matching Denver from 1994-98. ... The victory was the Bucs' first in six tries against Cleveland and gives them a victory over every team in the league except first-year Houston.

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