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Defensive ends help set game's momentum

Simeon Rice and Greg Spires get to Rich Gannon early, keeping him from finding a comfort zone.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2003


SAN DIEGO -- They came at Rich Gannon from the left and from the right, taking down a league MVP, bringing down the NFL's No. 1 offense and going down in history for one of the best defensive line efforts in Super Bowl history.

Defensive ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires terrorized Gannon in Sunday's 48-21 Bucs win, combining for three of the Bucs' five sacks, tipping passes at the line and keeping him out of rhythm with constant pressure from outside.

"Two years ago when I was coming here, I told Rich McKay: "If you bring me here, you're going to be world champs. You're going to win the Super Bowl,' " Rice said. "Prior to this game, he said "Hey, Simeon, you've got to make good on your word.' Well, we won it."

Rice matched the second-best effort in Super Bowl history with two sacks in the first half, and the Pro Bowl right end also mauled Gannon on a two-point conversion, taking away whatever momentum Oakland could muster from its first touchdown.

The matchup of Rice against Oakland left tackle Barry Sims was seen as a crucial one in the week leading up to the game, because the last time the Raiders lost, Sims was dominated by Miami's Jason Taylor, who had three sacks and two forced fumbles. Spires was thought to be a threat at left end because Gannon favors rollouts to that side, and as the Bucs built a 20-3 halftime lead, the ends had justified the high pregame expectations.

"Sims is a good player, but I knew once I take off on the ball and flash out on him, he'd get nervous," said Rice, who has six sacks in four playoff games as a Buc. "He's watched film all year, and he knew we could make big things happen. Right now, I don't care if they put Mount Everest in front of me. It was going to be climbed today."

Spires came through on third down on three consecutive possessions during a stretch that saw the Bucs force five straight three-and-out drives. On the first, he clubbed right tackle Lincoln Kennedy to the ground and sacked Gannon on a third-and-4 play, and on the next drive, he tipped a pass to force another punt. On the next drive, Oakland faced a third-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 43 and Spires pursued Gannon as he scrambled out of the pocket. Gannon's rushed pass was intercepted by Dexter Jackson, setting up the Martin Gramatica field goal that would give the Bucs their first lead.

"It's all about angles," Spires said of chasing Gannon. "I knew I could get inside, bam, he's going to have to run. And then it's a footrace. I knew he was probably faster than me, so I have to pick the right angle to get to him."

Spires would get one last tip on the final play from scrimmage, deflecting a pass that Dwight Smith intercepted and returned for his second touchdown of the game.

"Once you know you can't get there, you've got to get your hands up," Spires said. "A tipped pass is a loss of down, so it's always a big play."

Defensive tackles Ellis Wyms and Warren Sapp would add sacks in the second half, but the ends were the ones able to get to Gannon early, keeping him from finding the comfort zone necessary to operate the West Coast offense with any efficiency.

"I didn't get into a rhythm tonight," said Gannon, who set a Super Bowl record with five interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. "They were getting pressure on me early, and it affected me."

Rice's first sack was well-timed, holding Oakland's opening drive to three points after the Raiders got an early interception to start in Bucs territory. Facing a third-and-7 from the 16, Rice used a swim move to beat Sims inside and brought down Gannon for a 7-yard loss. The Raiders settled for a 40-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal.

"He's a very athletic guy, and he has really long arms. He played well tonight," Sims said. "It was obvious on film that they were faster than everybody else, but we thought we could match their speed. We failed to do that tonight."

Tampa Bay's five sacks marked the most allowed by Oakland this season, and the total ties as the sixth-most sacks by any team in 37 years of Super Bowl play. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli said the game plan was no different from any other game the Bucs have won with their defense.

"It's just a four-man rush, but it's what we do," Marinelli said. "We felt really good about our speed and quickness, inside and outside, going into this game."

For Rice, who led the NFC with 15.5 sacks, it was chance to show something to the sport's biggest audience, both about this team and about himself.

"I've said it in the past and I'm living it now: I'm the best d-end in this game," Rice said. "I knew that. It just took this game to show that. They knew it. They knew it all week. They knew it all year."

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