© St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2003
RECAP: The game couldn't have started worse for the Bucs with Brian Mitchell returning the opening kick 70 yards. That set up Duce Staley's 20-yard touchdown run two plays later. That quickly, two of Tampa Bay's weaknesses, kick coverage and run defense up the middle, were exposed. But the Bucs didn't freeze. Brad Johnson completed 3 of 4 passes to set up a 48-yard Martin Gramatica field goal, the longest for Tampa Bay in a postseason game. Johnson then connected with Joe Jurevicius on a 71-yard catch-and-run to the Eagles 5 that set up Mike Alstott's 1-yard score.
KEY PLAY: Easily, it was Jurevicius' reception caught in full stride and turned into the Bucs' second-longest postseason offensive play.
KEY PLAYER: Mitchell's second kickoff return was a 43-yarder after the Bucs' field goal, forcing Tampa Bay to squib kick for the rest of the game (football's version of walking Barry Bonds). "We needed to limit (Mitchell's) opportunities," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. UNSUNG HERO: Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor took advantage of Johnson's worst pass of the game, stepping in front of Keyshawn Johnson at the Bucs 47. The play could have been huge, but the Bucs forced a punt.
DID YOU NOTICE: The Bucs started in the no-huddle offense, which worked well against San Francisco Jan. 12. ... Alstott had five carries for 19 yards (3.8 yards per carry) in the quarter with two first downs and the 1-yard touchdown. ... The Bucs again used Warren Sapp in goal-line situations and ran behind his block on Alstott's touchdown. ... The Bucs outgained Philadelphia 145-44.
RECAP: Philadelphia pieced together a 26-yard drive midway through the quarter to tie it on David Akers' 30-yard field goal. But two long passes, 31 yards to Michael Pittman and 22 yards to Keyshawn Johnson, put the Bucs at the Eagles 29. From there, the Johnson & Johnson combo connected on two 9-yard gains; the first to the 10, the second into the end zone for a 17-10 lead. Philadelphia threatened late, moving to the Bucs 24, but a fumble caused and recovered by Simeon Rice ended the threat.
KEY PLAY: Rice's sack of Donovan McNabb, swatting the ball out of his hand just before the arm started forward. It was reviewed by the officials, who wanted to be sure McNabb had not started his throwing motion. The call was upheld, and the Bucs had the ball at their 31.
KEY PLAYER: By halftime, Brad Johnson was 10-of-16 for 179 yards, setting up one touchdown and throwing another. He finished the half with a 95.6 quarterback rating.
UNSUNG HERO: Roman Oben, who was brought in at left tackle, did what Kenyatta Walker couldn't do last year: contain Hugh Douglas.
DID YOU NOTICE: Rice's sack was his ninth of McNabb, the most in the league. Karl Williams put the offense in a hole by failing to catch a punt that eventually rolled to the Tampa Bay 2. The Bucs couldn't dig out and lost the field position battle, eventually giving up a 30-yard field goal that tied it with 8:06 left. Sapp sustained a cut right eyelid early, causing a lot of swelling, but he didn't miss a snap. Cosey Coleman sprained his right knee and appeared out after being carted off the field. But he returned during the second half.
RECAP: After little offense, the Bucs took advantage of an Eagles mistake. Ronde Barber fumbled a punt, and the ball (recovered by Tampa Bay) rolled inside the 20. But the Eagles were called for interference, and the Bucs got it at their 48. Johnson connected on four of his next five passes (to four receivers) to set up Gramatica's 27-yard field goal with 1:02 left, the only score of the quarter.
KEY PLAY: Ronde Barber, coming on a corner blitz, smacked the ball out of McNabb's hand, and Ellis Wyms recovered at the Eagles 47. The play didn't result in points, but it was another sack, recovered fumble and drive halted. KEY PLAYER: How about the entire defense? With the game in the balance and the crowd waiting for a chance to jump-start their E-A-G-L-E-S, it allowed 30 yards (18 rushing) to spot the Bucs a 10-point lead entering the final quarter.
UNSUNG HERO: Okay, fair play. The Eagles held the Bucs to minus-2 rushing yards, though they ran it four times (to 12 passes).
DID YOU NOTICE: Yes, that really was a 6-yard punt by Tom Tupa. Mitchell had another solid punt return, 17 yards to the Eagles 44, but it was wiped out by a holding call. Philadelphia had to start from its 19. The Eagles threw an incompletion on third and 1 from their 28, but the Bucs called timeout before the play. On its second try, Philadelphia got the first down but punted four plays later.
RECAP: Up by two scores with the No. 1 defense on the field, the Bucs were content to eat up the clock. They ate 6:30 on their first two possessions through runs and short passes. And the Eagles did their part, stalling their first drive with a pass interference and ineligible receiver downfield penalty, which wiped out a 14-yard gain. The clincher came at the end of Philadelphia's longest drive, when on first down from the Bucs 10, Ronde Barber picked off a pass and ran 92 yards (in total silence). KEY PLAY: Barber's pick was the only play that mattered.
KEY PLAYER: Mike Alstott, who converted twice on third and 1 to chew up time.
UNSUNG HERO: Let's give it to the linebackers (Al Singleton, Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles), who finished with a combined 20 tackles, shut down the running game and kept short passes, well, short. Brooks was dominant early, and Quarles and Singleton were around the ball nearly every down at the end.
DID YOU NOTICE: Yes, those were boos from the crowd as the final NFL game in the old stadium was another disappointing defeat. Police on motorcycles and bicycles surrounded the field as time expired, but there was little need. The stands were nearly empty. The Bucs can thank the officials for at least one break after a questionable offensive pass interference on Chad Lewis erased a 23-yard gain. It was the second straight game Barber returned a late interception for a touchdown, only last week's was negated by a face mask against Simeon Rice.