After a dismal meeting Oct. 27 with Carolina, the line vastly improves quarterback protection.
By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2002
TAMPA -- Kenyatta Walker had a message for the Panthers on Sunday: How do you like me now?
After admittedly getting toasted Oct. 27 by the Panthers defensive line, particularly rookie defensive end Julius Peppers, Walker and the rest of the Bucs offensive line redeemed themselves, allowing just two sacks in Tampa Bay's 23-10 win at Raymond James Stadium.
"It was about respect. We had to get respect," Walker said. "I think Peppers said the first game that he wanted everybody to know he was there. Well, I wanted everybody to know (Sunday) that I'm here."
Suffice it to say, the Panthers got the message. After getting six sacks and countless quarterback pressures in that first meeting, a 12-9 Bucs win in Charlotte, the Panthers rarely got to quarterback Brad Johnson though he threw 40 times. It was quite a feat considering Carolina leads the league in sacks (35), most by its defensive linemen.
"I definitely noticed they were a little more prepared for our pass-rushing game," linebacker Will Witherspoon said. "We weren't getting as much pressure on the quarterback as we had in the past, so I have to give it up to them. They did a better job this game."
Walker, in particular, was intent on having a better showing than he did the last time, when the Panthers' carefully-disguised blitzes repeatedly gave him and the Bucs trouble. They regularly shifted their defensive line and linebackers just before the snap, causing confusion among the Bucs' blockers.
Walker was beaten twice in that game by Peppers, the league's sack leader (11), including once when Peppers forced a fumble by backup quarterback Rob Johnson, who played in place of an injured Brad Johnson.
After that game, the Bucs played Minnesota and had a bye week, but Walker said he never got that game out of his head.
"I was really sick and tired of hearing about Peppers. It was getting on my nerves," he said. "It was all the fans and everybody. It was like he was going to (dominate me Sunday). It was like everybody just gave up on me.
"They whupped us last time. They put us on their laps and whupped us. I don't know how you come back after a whuppin', but I don't like to get whupped a lot. ... If you couldn't have come out and played (good) this game, then I don't know what I was doing out there. That's what it all boiled down to."
It was a masterful performance. Not only was the offensive line protecting a less mobile quarterback in Brad Johnson than in the earlier game, but defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said the Panthers blitzed more this time.
And Carolina got the matchups it wanted, but the offensive line stopped the Panthers again and again.
"I think we just didn't take advantage of our one-on-one opportunities that we had with the D-linemen and the linebackers, as far as blitzes," Witherspoon said. "They did a better job picking up our blitzes, a better job man to man with our ends and our tackles."
The few times the Bucs let the Panthers get to Johnson, they weren't exactly huge plays. Early in the third, defensive tackle Shane Burton dumped Johnson for a 6-yard loss on second down. And early in the fourth, Peppers stripped Johnson 7 yards behind the line, but running back Michael Pittman picked up the ball and actually gained 2 yards.
"After the last game, even though we won it, they still came in here with their chests stuck out like we weren't 7-2, so we had to let these guys know that, hey, it's not going to be like the last time we played," guard Cosey Coleman said.
"Every year, two times a year from now on, this is the type of game it's going to be; the type of game it was today."
Walker and Coleman said getting dominated by Carolina's defense three weeks ago changed everything about the way they approach the Panthers. It's become more personal, and they said they took Sunday's game personal, too.
"This game is about the strong conquering the weak," Walker said.
"I wasn't going to be weak today."