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Fourth quarter

The defense comes through

By ALAN RITTNER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2003


OVERVIEW: The Raiders offense, forced to throw on every down, came to life, and special teams didn't do the Bucs any favors. But the offense did an efficient enough job eating up the clock, with Brad Johnson passing for a couple of crucial first downs. And when linebacker Derrick Brooks returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown, the Bucs' first Super Bowl championship was assured. The capper came when backup cornerback Dwight Smith returned another interception 50 yards for a score with 2 seconds left.

KEY PLAYER: Brooks. Down 34-21, the Raiders still could have made a game of it with a quick score. But the linebacker's interception return eliminated any possibility for drama.

HIGHS: Could the game have ended any more appropriately? The Bucs' final two touchdowns came on interceptions. The veteran Brooks had scored four during his NFL Defensive Player of the Year campaign; Smith, a second-year player, never had scored a touchdown in the NFL. ... Running back Michael Pittman passed 100 yards with a 24-yard run to the Raiders 11 with just more than 11 minutes left. He finished with 124; his high during the regular season was 90. ... Coach Jon Gruden refused to get too conservative, going to the passing game to keep drives alive. ... The victory celebration, naturally.

LOWS: The Raiders gave themselves a little life by blocking Tom Tupa's punt and returning it 13 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the quarter, making it 34-15, though they couldn't convert the two-point conversion. ... Special teams let the Bucs down again on the ensuing drive. Holder Tom Tupa muffed a perfectly good snap on a 27-yard field-goal attempt with 9: 53 to go. Martin Gramatica recovered and smartly went down without pulling a Garo Yepremian. ... Raiders receiver Jerry Rice, who had been held to two catches for 19 yards, cut through the Bucs zone for a 48-yard touchdown with 6: 14 left.

DID YOU NOTICE: Brad Johnson? He started 4-for-14 but got his completion percentage over 50 percent on his 31st attempt. ... The Raiders challenged an incompletion on a two-point conversion after cutting their deficit to 34-21, only a reversal isn't permitted on a ruling that the receiver was pushed out of bounds. Officials could only rule if the receiver got his feet inbounds, which he clearly didn't, and the Raiders lost a potentially valuable timeout. ... Though Oakland played without Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins, Warren Sapp didn't have the field day that might have been expected. Sapp's first tackle came just before the two-minute warning, when he tripped up Rich Gannon for a 1-yard gain. On the next play, Sapp sacked Gannon for a 9-yard loss. ... The Bucs scored 10 more than their regular-season high.

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