© 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.
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.
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.
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.
That was the defense's mulligan.