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Basic offense makes believers of Vikings

Bucs compile 446 yards on simple offensive calls, which keep Minnesota off balance.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 4, 2002

Bucs compile 446 yards on simple offensive calls, which keep Minnesota off balance.

TAMPA -- They called it basic and elementary, just your garden-variety NFL offense. They said it wasn't innovative or intimidating or anything close to explosive.

And the Vikings also said that bland Bucs offense wore them out.

"They were pretty basic. They don't do anything major," cornerback Corey Chavous said. "But they were on their game today. They were just on point today."

It's true, the Bucs offense is inefficient at times and perhaps a tad restrained. But that would be news to the Vikings, who were trampled for 446 yards by a Tampa Bay offense that posted several season highs.

Averaging 15.1 points coming into Sunday, the Bucs erupted for almost 40. And all, believe it or not, came from the offense, which had not scored a TD in eight quarters.

Granted, the Vikings had a hand in making the offense look so good. They were ranked 28th in total defense, including 31st against the pass, coming in. They were in the habit of making offenses look good.

But the Vikings insist the Bucs offense is better than advertised.

"They've got some great players over there," said free safety Ronnie Bradford, who said he suffered a mild concussion from a hit on Keyshawn Johnson, who scored his second touchdown on a 19-yard reception. "They've got Keyshawn. They've got (running back Michael) Pittman. They've got (fullback Mike) Alstott. They've got guys who can make some plays."

The Vikings said what hurt them was the Bucs' play-calling, which kept the defense off balance. When they expected the Bucs to run, they passed. When they sensed the Bucs were going to Johnson, they went to Alstott. When they expected the Bucs to throw left, they ran right.

That was perhaps never more apparent than on Brad Johnson's first touchdown pass to Keyshawn Johnson, a play-action move that fooled the Vikings, leaving Johnson open in the end zone.

"They're smart. Jon (Gruden) is an excellent head coach who calls the plays and has a brilliant mind," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "He keeps you off balance and keeps you guessing, and he did a nice job of keeping our guys off balance."

Tice said the Bucs offense repeatedly crossed his team up in the passing game, running a lot of slants and short post patterns the Vikings had trouble defending. Tice said he changed personnel in the secondary but his reserves weren't any better in coverage than the starters.

It did not help that the Bucs' constant shifting and motion confused the Vikings at times, leaving them in mismatches in coverage that allowed the Bucs to make plays.

"We had a lot of guys who were supposed to be tighter on coverage, one man (against) one guy and we didn't, for whatever reason, rise to that occasion," Tice said.

Brad Johnson, who had arguably his best game of the season, repeatedly found openings in the secondary. He was 24-for-31 for 313 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.

"I don't want to say he was particularly (hot)," Chavous said. "He's a good quarterback and he came into the game with an 80.6 rating, so it wasn't like he was stinking up the joint this year. But I just think they found some things on film that we weren't doing a good job of and they took advantage of them."

What impressed the Vikings was the Bucs' execution. No, they didn't do much that was fancy or complex, the Vikings said. But they said the Bucs worked their basic offensive approach to perfection.

"To me, they played better than we did today, especially on the offensive side of the ball," linebacker Greg Biekert said. "And it's hard to take. It really is."

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