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1999 vs. 2002

Before the Bucs' current defense can lay claim to best in team history, there is some business to be taken care of first.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003


photo
[Times photo: 2000]
In 1999, Hardy Nickerson was one of the defense’s main stars.
TAMPA -- Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin struggled with the idea of comparing this year's defense with the one that took the Bucs to the NFC Championship game in 1999. He believes that despite the superb individual and team performances of the 2002 edition, any such comparison is meaningless until the season is finally over.

Kiffin believes that despite its No. 1 overall ranking, the records and the Pro Bowl selections, the legacy of the current Bucs defense will always be measured against the final destination of its 1999 predecessor.

"That unit got to the championship game and this unit isn't there yet," Kiffin said. "Talk to me after the season is over, maybe in the off-season, then we can look at them both. I just don't like to make comparisons. We haven't finished. There's unfinished business."

As the Bucs open the playoff drive in the first year under coach Jon Gruden, this defense has the chance to eclipse the standard set four seasons ago. It begins today with a divisional playoff game against the 49ers and can only be accomplished by helping reach the Super Bowl.

"Ultimately, it comes down to where you end up," safety John Lynch said. "This season is far from over and hopefully we'll surpass that defense and we'll go in and surpass that championship game. That remains to be seen. But I think that is the reality. That's what the game comes down to. Getting to the Super Bowl is what it's all about."

Defensive excellence has been the identity of the franchise since former coach Tony Dungy took over in 1996. It was Dungy's commitment to the one-gap, cover-two philosophy and the drafting of players who fit the mold that played a significant role in the team's defensive resurgence.

Dungy and Kiffin structured a defense that relied on speed, discipline and thoughtfulness rather than brute size and strength.

By Dungy's third year, loyalty to that strategy paid off, with the defense finishing third in the league. That defense featured players like Lynch, linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and cornerback Ronde Barber. But it also featured departed players like linebacker Hardy Nickerson, defensive ends Steve White and Marcus Jones, cornerback Donnie Abraham and safety Damien Robinson.

"Certainly, there's different people here now than were here in 1999," middle linebacker Shelton Quarles said. "But the new guys are all playing well and that's where the good comparisons come in. Different players, different eras. But if it wasn't for those players, we wouldn't be where we are now."

But where they are now, at least statistically, is far ahead of where they were in 1999. The 2002 defense is ahead in a number of key categories, including total defense (252.8 yards per game), passing defense (155.6 ypg), points allowed (12.25), interceptions (31), third-down efficiency (33.6 percent), turnover margin (+ 17), shutouts (two) and scoring defense (39 points).

"Overall, you have to say we're better," Sapp said. "If you look at the wins and losses, this would be a better team because of the wins. We're a more knowledgeable team. We're a more knowledgeable defense. We're better at right tackle, under tackle and at nose. It makes a difference.

"There's a bunch of stuff that points to this being a better team. The statistics definitely lean in that direction and we would lean that way too because we know more, we've tweaked the defense to a point where we get people to run where we want them to run. There's some things we worked on after the 1999 season and we didn't get it right until now."

photo
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
In 2002, Shelton Quarles, left, and Dexter Jackson, right, rose to prominence as highly skilled starters.

In defense of the 1999 team, Sapp explained that the schedule and the way the season unfolded early were influential factors.

"Now, we had some different opponents on the 1999 team," Sapp said. "We had to play (Randy) Moss twice that year, play (Brett) Favre twice that year, do some different things. When it all breaks down, you have to hold them up on each individual case, each season demands something different.

"The 1999 season demanded us to win six or seven in a row and we did that because we started with a 3-4 start."

In a league where numbers play a significant role and results even more, the accomplishments of the 2002 defense are hard to beat.

"Over the course of an entire season, I have never played on a defense that has performed better than the one now," Lynch said. "There's been an offensive explosion and I think that's what makes what we've been able to accomplish even more impressive. The numbers are up everywhere else and our numbers have gotten better from where we've been.

"When you look at it relative to what's going on in the league, where there's a whole lot of bad defense being played, it makes it even more special."

True, but until they make it, at the very least, to the NFC Championship game, the 1999 Bucs appear to have bragging rights.

"That's the standard we have to live up to and to surpass," Sapp said, thinking back to the effort against the Rams that year. "We walked into the worst situation we could walk into, no offense, against the greatest show on turf, in their house and we were supposed to get blown out. Well, for 50-something minutes we had them set up for the old rope-a-dope.

"That's the standard we'll always be graded by. When we get there again, we have to know how to win that type of game."


Back to the Bucs

Today's lineup

Bucs

  • 'We're just getting started here'
  • Chucky Chalk Talk
  • John Romano: Gimme five
  • Gary Shelton: Bucs should seize the day while they can
  • 1999 vs. 2002
  • New players inspire new confidence
  • Buccaneers get a Krazy hip-hop anthem
  • Bucs' top plays of the 2002 season
  • Bucs' defense, player by player
  • What they're saying
  • Bucs in the playoffs through the years
  • On the Internet: 49erhaters.com: Want to join the club
  • Bucs vs. 49ers at a glance
  • Times staff predictions
  • Guest analyst: Bucs built to avoid Giant failures
  • Bucs' offense, player by player
  • On the sideline
  • On the air: Fox 13 boasts a Bucs bonanza
  • Kickin' Back: Heart big enough without bionics
  • Letters: Bucs chat: Critics exhibit short memories

  • 49ers
  • Garcia still chasing ghosts
  • 49ers: Peterson aims to set a new standard

  • Rays
  • Piniella confident in Rays' top brass

  • Lightning
  • Fighting chance nets tie
  • Players also follow Bucs
  • Khabibulin returns to All-Star Game

  • Other sports
  • Hubert Mizell: Time to hand Madden's crown to Collinsworth
  • John Romano: Gimme five
  • Gary Shelton: Bucs should seize the day while they can

  • NFL
  • Titans advance on second try
  • Listen up, Bucs
  • Reid selected Coach of Year
  • Jets and Raiders talk a good game
  • Familiarity strips game down to fundamentals
  • McNair shows his toughness again

  • College basketball
  • Gators win 3-point duel with Dawgs
  • SIU 69, Indiana State 61
  • St. John's keeps UCLA struggling
  • Freshman spurs Miami over Irish
  • Florida A&M rallies, wins in 2OT
  • Oregon is upset in second straight
  • Terps end drama early, crush Seminoles by 27
  • Bad start dooms outmanned USF

  • Briefly
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  • Instant replay
  • Sports salute
  • NCAA president wants change

  • Baseball
  • Ex-umpire D. Merrill dies at 64

  • College football
  • Dorsey enjoys homecoming

  • NHL
  • Capitals cruise to 12-2 win
  • Slapshots

  • NBA
  • Allen's last-second steal helps Bucks ice Pistons

  • Motorsports
  • Nadeau sees U.S. troops up close in Middle East

  • Golf
  • Els, Choi race past the field

  • Preps
  • Green Devils outdistance city rivals for crown
  • Cougars can't end win streak
  • Bucs on their way up
  • Rams keep 'Canes under wraps in 63-48 win
  • Durant saves face for Hillsborough teams
  • Cougars, Frayer like tourney

  • Letters
  • Your turn

  • Outdoors
  • Alinghi takes an early lead in challenger final
  • Daily fishing report
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