© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2003
GAME 1: Saints 26, BUCS 20, OT
TAMPA -- A botched pass in the end zone by Tampa Bay punter Tom Tupa landed in the wrong hands and gave New Orleans a victory. Tupa, trying to avoid being tackled for a safety, tossed a weak, left-handed pass directly to James Allen in the end zone with 2:50 remaining in overtime. Allen's TD provided a bizarre ending to a frustrating day for Tampa Bay, which scored 10 points in the last three minutes of regulation to force overtime.
BALTIMORE -- Karl Williams returned a punt 56 yards for a touchdown and Derrick Brooks scored on a 97-yard interception return as Tampa Bay gave Jon Gruden his first victory as coach. The Bucs limited the Ravens to six first downs before the fourth quarter as Baltimore was shut out for the first time since Nov. 9, 1997.
TAMPA -- Tampa Bay's defense knocked running back Marshall Faulk out of the game and intercepted Kurt Warner four times. The Bucs built a 13-7 halftime lead, and Brian Kelly's 31-yard interception return set up Mike Alstott's 1-yard TD plunge to put Tampa Bay up 19-7 with 10:42 to go. The Rams pulled within five on Lamar Gordon's 20-yard TD run, but couldn't score in the last four minutes. Linebacker Derrick Brooks put the exclamation point on the victory, returning an interception 39 yards for a TD.
CINCINNATI -- Brad Johnson threw three touchdowns, and just as teammate Keyshawn Johnson predicted, the Bucs had a walk in the park against the Bengals. Brad Johnson was 19-for-30 for 277 yards, but his franchise-record streak of 187 straight passes without an interception ended when linebacker Brian Simmons picked one off and returned it 51 yards for a TD in the first quarter. It was the first lead of the season for the Bengals (0-4), who found little success with Akili Smith at quarterback. He was 12-for-33 for 117 yards and had an interception returned for a TD.
ATLANTA -- Keyshawn Johnson caught a 76-yard pass for his first touchdown of the season, and the Bucs got another defensive TD when Warren Sapp intercepted a pass and pitched it to Derrick Brooks. The Falcons lost quarterback Michael Vick, who sprained his right (nonthrowing) shoulder early in the third quarter and didn't return.
TAMPA -- The Bucs defense extended its streak of consecutive games without allowing a touchdown to three, limiting Cleveland to a fourth-quarter field goal. Mike Alstott ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns as Tampa Bay won its fifth straight.
PHILADELPHIA -- Donovan McNabb didn't put up great numbers, but he threw for one touchdown and ran for another as the Eagles beat Tampa Bay for the fourth straight time. McNabb threw for 127 yards and was held to a career-low 4 yards on six carries, but he threw a 42-yard TD to Todd Pinkston in the second quarter to put the Eagles in front for good at 10-7. Duce Staley ran 24 times for 152 yards. Tampa Bay's only touchdown came on an 11-yard fumble return by Derrick Brooks, his fourth TD of the season.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Martin Gramatica kicked a 47-yard field goal with five seconds left for Tampa Bay. Gramatica also connected from 52 and 53 yards in the fourth, the second with 1:55 left to tie it at 9.
TAMPA -- The Bucs offense finally showed some spark. Brad Johnson, who missed the Carolina game with a broken rib, completed 19 of 31 passes for 313 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. Keyshawn Johnson had nine receptions for 133 yards and two TDs. The Bucs (7-2) matched the best nine-game start in their history, equaling the 1979 team.
TAMPA -- Brad Johnson threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns, and the league's top-ranked defense forced four turnovers as the Bucs (8-2) took sole possession of first place in the NFC South. Johnson threw a 1-yard TD to Keyshawn Johnson in the second quarter, then snapped a tie at 10 with a 22-yarder to Keenan McCardell late in the third. Martin Gramatica added field goals of 20, 32 and 41 yards.
TAMPA -- Tampa Bay intercepted Brett Favre four times and Brad Johnson threw two second-half touchdowns as the Bucs won the showdown between the teams with the league's best records. The Bucs (9-2) were off to the best start in franchise history and moved into position to make a run for homefield advantage in the playoffs.
NEW ORLEANS -- Despite a record-setting performance by Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice, the Saints ended the Bucs' four-game winning streak. Aaron Brooks, playing with a bruised throwing arm, threw two touchdowns in the first six minutes of the second half. Rice, the league leader in sacks with 14.5, had two in the first five minutes and set a record for consecutive games with multiple sacks, with five.
TAMPA -- Brad Johnson threw for 276 yards and four touchdowns, and the league's No. 1 defense shut down Michael Vick for the second time as the Bucs ended Atlanta's eight-game unbeaten streak. Johnson completed 23 of 31 passes, including TD throws of 10 and 13 yards to Joe Jurevicius and 14 and 27 yards to Keenan McCardell.
DETROIT -- Martin Gramatica kicked three field goals, Brad Johnson was 24-of-41 for 253 yards for the Bucs, and Keyshawn Johnson caught six passes for 90 yards. The Lions (3-11) were without quarterback Joey Harrington, who left after the first drive with an irregular heartbeat.
TAMPA -- The Steelers dominated Tampa Bay to win the AFC North for their seventh division title in 11 years under coach Bill Cowher. Pittsburgh's Tommy Maddox threw for 236 yards and one touchdown. Tampa Bay played without quarterback Brad Johnson, who sat out with a severe lower back bruise. Shaun King made his first start in nearly two seasons and struggled against a defense that had allowed only 178 yards in its previous two games.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- With a first-round bye on the line, the defense hounded the Bears, and Martin Gramatica kicked five field goals to give Tampa Bay the No. 2 seed in the NFC. It was 34 degrees at kickoff, giving Tampa Bay (12-4) its first victory in 22 tries when the game-time temperature is 40 degrees or below. Henry Burris threw for 78 yards and had four interceptions for the Bears.
TAMPA -- Brad Johnson returned from a monthlong layoff to throw for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Alstott scored on a pair of 2-yard runs, and Johnson threw TDs of 20 yards to Joe Jurevicius and 12 yards to Rickey Dudley after missing the previous two games with a bruised back. Alstott's first TD snapped a 12-quarter Bucs touchdown drought in the playoffs.
PHILADELPHIA -- After being stunned by a Philadelphia touchdown in the first minute the Bucs shut down Donovan McNabb and Co.. After an early Eagles flurry, sparked by Brian Mitchell's 70-yard return of the opening kickoff, it was all Tampa Bay. The Bucs led 17-10 at halftime and stifled Philadelphia after intermission. Brad Johnson was 20-of-33 for 259 yards, and the defense, meanwhile, controlled McNabb, who finished 26-of-49 for 243 yards in his second game back after missing six games with a broken right ankle.