The Tampa Bay defense shows off its speed and contains elusive QB Michael Vick.
By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 9, 2002
TAMPA -- Falcons quarterback Michael Vick might be the greatest thing since sliced bread to the rest of the NFL, but against the Bucs he's more like melba toast.
For the second straight time, the Bucs throttled the league's most electrifying player on Sunday, closing his running lanes and restricting his passing in a 34-10 win at Raymond James Stadium.
One week after Vick ran circles around the Vikings (setting a league record with 173 rushing yards), and then boasting he'd have his best game against the Bucs, he was reduced to a non-factor. Vick was stuffed for 15 yards on five carries, and he didn't do much better passing, completing 12 of 25 for 125 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
In two games against the Bucs this season, Vick is 16-of-37 for 162 yards and has 16 rushing yards on six carries. After Sunday's game he said no team gives him more problems than the Bucs.
"Definitely. I think it's because of the talent of their defense," Vick said. "Up front, teams in this league might have one or two good pass rushers. But this team has four. Then you have three All-Pro (caliber) linebackers.
"There was nothing I could do. They kept me contained."
How did they do it?
The Bucs insist they did nothing special. They simply played their regular defense. They say they didn't bring their safeties up any more than usual. And they didn't assign a player to spy on Vick.
"That's an insult," defensive tackle Anthony McFarland said. "We don't believe in spies. We just let the front four do what they do. It was our job to keep him in the pocket and then get him down."
One thing made the Bucs' plan work to perfection: speed.
The Bucs' speedy defensive line never let Vick get loose. Whenever he started to take off, Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, Greg Spires or McFarland forced him inside. And when Vick did get outside, somebody usually ran him down.
On first down early in the first quarter, Vick dropped back to pass, scrambled left, then darted back right on the kind of play he frequently has turned into a big gain this season.
But linebacker Derrick Brooks met Vick when he tried to go left, then chased him down as he ran the other direction. Vick ran about 20 yards, but gained just 2.
"We got to him one time and he got up and said, 'I can't believe it. Ya'll boys are fast as hell. I ain't never seen nothing like this before,' " Sapp recalled. "I looked him and said, 'We've never seen nothing like you, either.' "
Vick, arguably the league's fastest player, said the Bucs were too fast to outrun.
"They have speed that other teams don't have," said Vick, whose chances of winning the league's MVP award might have dimmed slightly Sunday. "And when you have a defense with guys that can move around and can run just as fast as the guys you have on offense, you are going to have to fight for everything you get.
"The guys cut off lanes, and they have Simeon Rice out there, who runs like a running back. ... You try to get around the corners and there's Simeon Rice and a defensive back. I've never run up against a team like that."
There was perhaps only one time when Vick dazzled. On first-and-10 from the Bucs 35 late in the second quarter, Vick scrambled forward, dodged Sapp and eluded Spires. Then, looking as if he was going to take off running, he flicked a 20-yard pass to tight end Alge Crumpler.
"They pursue to the ball a great deal and do a great job of it, so you have to pick and choose when to run," Vick said. "And my thing was just to get rid of the football."
Bucs coach Jon Gruden, who said he grew weary during the week of hearing questions about Vick, couldn't help but take a shot at the pregame hype surrounding the Falcons quarterback.
"All the talk all week has been, 'How do you stop Michael Vick?' " Gruden said. " ... But I didn't hear anybody in America say, 'How's (Vick) going to go up against this defense?' "