© St. Petersburg Times, published January 19, 2003
TALK OF THE TOWN
Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Bucs have answered (almost) every question. They have met (nearly) every challenge. One issue remains: Can they protect Brad Johnson? From the first day of camp, Tampa Bay's success was to be determined by the effectiveness of the offensive line. This is the final exam. The Eagles will blitz from the left, the right, the middle and, if possible, the back. If the Bucs are successful picking it up, they're in the Super Bowl.
SAY GOODBYE: In honor of the final football game at Veterans Stadium, the Eagles have planned a farewell ceremony. No details have been revealed, so we can only hope Lysol is somehow involved.
PUTTING THE BEST FOOT FORWARD: The good omen? The Bucs have played in two NFC Championship Games and have surrendered only one touchdown. The bad omen? The Bucs have played in two NFC Championship Games and have yet to score a touchdown. With these two defenses, you might expect similar results today. Which is why the game could come down to placekickers. Philadelphia's David Akers was 30-of-34 on field goals with one 50-yarder. Martin Gramatica was 32-of-39 with five FGs of 50 yards or better.
IN A DEEP HOLE: One way to beat the blitz is to burn the defense with a deep throw. That poses a problem for the Bucs because Philly's secondary is quicker than Tampa Bay's receivers. The only game in which the Bucs failed to complete a pass of at least 20 yards this season? Yup. The Eagles.
JUST A THOUGHT: If this coaching thing doesn't work out, Andy Reid would make an excellent Captain Kangaroo.
Five reasons to dislike Philadelphia:
5. Gives urban blight a bad name.
4. Dang police! Always harassing millionaire athletes who happen to enjoy toting guns, disturbing the peace and throwing naked wives out the door.
3. Produces a decent NFL team, like clockwork, every 20 years.
2. Responsible for unleashing Rocky VI on the world.
1. Bucs can't win there.
5. Stop Duce Staley. He gained 152 yards in their last meeting, and Philly again will try to pound the ball up the middle. In the past two seasons, Tampa Bay is 1-5 when an opposing back goes over 100 yards.
4. Smash the thermometer. The joke around the Eagles camp was that a Veterans Stadium worker was going to hang an absurdly large thermometer outside the visitor's locker room. How about using reverse psychology? No heaters, no thermal blankets. Perhaps you would risk pneumonia, but what's a lung or two compared to the Super Bowl?
3. Attack, attack, attack. Then attack some more. Tampa Bay's offense must not allow the Eagles defense to control the tempo.
2. Sacrifice a Glazer. Yes, it sounds cruel. But leaving one of the boys on the sideline could be quite the distraction for Philly fans.
1. Steal the ball. Fumble, interception, blocked kick, it doesn't matter. The Eagles are a more well-rounded team. For the Bucs to gain an edge, they need a turnover that leads to a touchdown.
0: Victories by three points or fewer for the Eagles. They are 0-3 in squeakers. So just keep it close.
2: Games in which the Bucs offense has scored a touchdown in the first quarter. And none on the road. So much for taking the crowd out of it.
39: Percentage of successful third-down conversions for Philadelphia. That ranks 20th in the NFL. It is the offense's weakest link.
42: Pass attempts per interception in road games for Brad Johnson. That's pretty darn good. Except his attempts per interception at home is 243.
99: Warren Sapp's uniform number. Just a hunch, but you might want to keep an eye on No. 99. The Eagles plan to attack straight up the middle.
Isn't 27 years long enough?