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On the sideline

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


The first word

"I like this team a lot. I tip my hat to (former) coach (Tony) Dungy. A lot of these guys have been here awhile. There's a lot of pride in the locker room. A lot of the players that we brought in through free agency, the (Ken) Dilgers, the (Michael) Pittmans, the Lomas Browns, have given us a little more juice and genuine leadership and enthusiasm. But I really like the makeup of this team." -- Bucs coach Jon Gruden on the squad he's taking into the playoffs.

When they last met

The Bucs defeated the 49ers 13-6 on Sept. 8, 1997. Behind key plays from defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Hardy Nickerson, the Bucs held the 49ers to two first-half field goals. They also took out 49ers quarterback Steve Young and receiver Jerry Rice.

Trailing 6-0, the Bucs had four of their seven sacks after the break, setting the tempo for a comeback. Quarterback Trent Dilfer hit Karl Williams for a 55-yard completion, the Bucs gave the ball back, then got it back again and converted a 45-yard Michael Husted field goal. Dilfer put the Bucs ahead for good when he connected with Dave Moore on a one-yard score.

Young returned to the game but was intercepted by cornerback Tyrone Legette and the resulting 34-yard field goal gave the Bucs their final cushion.

Some inside stuff

Gruden calls the plays and quarterback Brad Johnson can improvise at the line of scrimmage, but the Bucs did script the first 15 plays of their regular-season finale in Champaign, Ill. It's something that might happen again. Or might not. "Yes, we did (script the plays)," Gruden said. "Sometimes the scripts aren't very good."

Gruden's father, Jim Gruden, a former scout and assistant coach for the Bucs, is now a scout for the 49ers. Asked if Dad, who lives in Tampa, will be allowed to visit his son's house this week, Gruden responded, "We'll lock him out."

In the second half of the season, the Bucs offensive line has begun to show signs of coming together. Brad Johnson has been sacked nine times in his last six starts. "We've all played well at times," guard Cosey Coleman said. "You want all five guys on the same page, flowing in one motion. The last few games, I feel like we've been on that track."

Hmmm!, now that's interesting

In the last quarter of the season, Tampa Bay's beleaguered running game has come alive. The Bucs averaged 127 yards over the final four games (508 total yards) after averaging 87.41 through the first 12 games.

"We've had a couple big runs," Gruden said. "We've come out of the trash and made a couple double-digit runs. That's always the key. You need a couple long runs to help those statistics. It helps when you reel off a couple double-digit runs in the course of the game."

Numerically speaking

0 -- offensive touchdowns scored in last three playoff games.
8 -- third-down conversions in 25 attempts over the past two playoff games.
22 -- sacks given up by the 49ers during the regular season, third fewest in the league.
31 -- interceptions for the Bucs, second highest in team history (32 in 1981)

The Last Word

"We don't play until (mid) January and I think that's where you make your legacy as a player, as a team and that's what we have to do. It's something special to play for. It's not about me, it's about we." -- Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson on what the playoffs mean to players.


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