By JOHN ROMANO, Times Sports Columnist
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 16, 2002
TALK OF THE TOWN
Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio:
THE COACHING CRADLE: Yes, he was handed a great team, but coach Jon Gruden already has more wins than John McKay, Leeman Bennett, Ray Perkins, Richard Williamson or Sam Wyche had in their first two seasons.
AN EMPTY SACK: When Joey Harrington tripped over his fullback while setting up in the pocket, the Bucs were credited with a sack. Turns out it was the only one of the day and extended Tampa Bay's streak of consecutive games with a sack to 58. The Bucs are 10 from tying the NFL record set by the 1976-80 Cowboys. Should it count as a record if a quarterback flops to the ground? Better ask Michael Strahan.
IN A NUTSHELL: One victory to win the division. Two (or one win and a Green Bay loss) to get a first-round bye.
SPREADING THE WEALTH: Gruden continues to find ways to maximize the talents of his RBs. Michael Pittman, Mike Alstott and Aaron Stecker combined for 26 carries for 121 yards and 10 receptions for 74 yards. Pittman had 16 touches, Alstott 14 and Stecker 6.
ACHILLES HAS TWO HEELS: Wondering how a 3-11 team took the Bucs to the final minutes? The same way Philadelphia and New Orleans beat them. With blitzes that kept pressure on Brad Johnson and by running at the middle of Tampa Bay's defense. Count on seeing those strategies again.
A LIST OF FIVE
Five strategies that have the Bucs on top of the division:
5. Three-penalty limit for offensive linemen.
4. Two-Glazer limit on road trips.
3. Guys with broken bones are excused from Wednesday practices.
2. Making sure Todd Yoder gets a reception every month.
1. Giving the other 50 guys a breather by letting Martin Gramatica make all the special-teams tackles.
FIVE TEAM RECORDS IN SIGHT
5. For the third time in team history, the Bucs have a 5-2 road record. In 1979 and '97, they failed while trying to win a record sixth.
4. In Week 15 last season, Stecker took the opening kickoff 86 yards. In Week 15 this season, Stecker took the opening kickoff 67 yards. Tampa Bay is 0-for-1,585 on kickoff returns for TDs, but Stecker has the highest return average (minimum 15 attempts) in team history at 25.7 yards.
3. Gramatica, who has hit 11 of his past 12 field-goal attempts, is two from breaking his team record of 28 in a season.
2. Brad Johnson already has the season record for TD passes. He is also on schedule to set team records for completion percentage, passer rating and lowest interception percentage. Pro Bowl, anyone?
1. Keyshawn Johnson is one gripe from setting a new standard for complaints by a receiver with at least 60 receptions, 900 yards and 11 victories in a season.
FIVE SUPER PICKS
Checking out the best bets for Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego:
1. EAGLES: Yeah, but how good would they be with their No. 4 QB?
2. BUCS: But they're No. 1 in best bet to commit a false start penalty.
3. PACKERS: Anything less would be a cheap shot. Right, Mike Sherman?
4. COLTS: From November on, Tony Dungy has a .678 career winning percentage.
5. DOLPHINS: Jason Taylor could push Derrick Brooks for defensive honors.
FIVE FINAL WORDS
That was the defense's mulligan.
Back to the Bucs
BucsBucs 23, Detroit 20: A tighter grip
Bucs playoff scenarios
Pressure transforms O-line
One big play makes up for a downer day
Bucs game balls
McFarland lost in second week back
Pittman and crew show consistency
RaysRays make deal for SS Ordonez
Four-team trade finally gets Durazo to Oakland
LightningLecavalier proves even wrong moves can work
Kearse primed for playoff push
Dolphins slow Raider attack, seize AFC lead
Green Bay keeps pace with best
Seattle slips past Atlanta
Vikings stun Saints on final play
Steelers pounce on Panther woes
Jaguars nip NFL's worst
Harrison sets season mark for catches
Gaborik showing star qualities
Austin Peay's poor shooting benefits Vandy
Seminoles turn back challenging Panthers
No.1 Wildcats barely survive
Distance right for winners
Sports in brief
Americans' lone mistake gives Japan World Cup
Daily fishing report