MIAMI - The pressure was intense, like something you haven't seen for, well, months.
The speed was blistering, just the way you remember it. The tackling had that certain familiarity. The coverage was as crisp as your memory of it.
You could have recognized these guys anywhere. Once again, the defensive ends were in a footrace to the quarterback, and the linebackers were dropping to the depth of safeties, and the safeties were taking the ball away. Once again, the Bucs left an offense muttering to itself.
Yep, all in all, you'd have to say this to the defense of the Tampa Bay Bucs:
Welcome back, boys.
Good to see you again.
Ah, yes, the Riders of the Pewter Sage rode again Friday night. In their first extended play of the season - if you can call seven plays and one quarter's worth of work extended - the Bucs defense looked as fast, as furious, as fierce as where it left off late in last season's Super Bowl.
Okay, so the Dolphins who don't matter staged a comeback against the Bucs who won't play and the score ended up close. That isn't important. What is important is the way the Bucs' No. 1 defense played.
"It was pretty special," safety John Lynch said. "They went backward."
Seven plays, and the Dolphins gained 14 yards.
Seven plays, three pressures, one sack, one fumble.
Seven plays, and Brian Griese was left to wonder: These are the guys I have to go through to win a job? Seven plays, and coach Dave Wannstedt was left to respond: Hey, don't tell me about your problems. I'm trying to keep my job.
Poor Griese. This was supposed to be his chance to make a nice first impression in his new town, the town where he grew up, the town where his father, Bob, was a star. When regular starter Jay Fiedler came up with a bad back this week - and, in hindsight, doesn't that look suspicious - all of Miami was atwitter at the prospect of the prodigal son.
Instead, with his dad working as an analyst, Griese spent most of the evening trying to peel one Buc or the other off his back. If there is going to be a quarterback controversy in Miami, it's going to have to start against another defense.
Take the first series. In four plays, the Bucs defense showed a) that if a receiver is going to run an 18-yard route, Derrick Brooks can drop back 15 of them and force an incompletion; b) that while no one seems to notice him, Greg Spires will wind up in a quarterback's grill every now and then; c) that Simeon Rice still has Inspector Gadget's reach; d) that when Brian Kelly comes in low and hard to make a tackle, it's tough to hang on to the ball; e) that Dwight Smith needs a little more work on running back fumbles. Hey, it's preseason.
We hereby pause so Barbra can sing Memories. On the second series, the Bucs reminded us of a few more golden oldies. Let's review: They showed a) Shelton Quarles knows how to handle himself on a blitz; b) that Dwayne Rudd is a pretty good tackler; c) draw plays don't scare you on third and 20.
All in all, they were the same old bloodthirsty, nicknameless bunch you have come to know and love. It was like inviting all your old college buddies over and finding out that, yes, they still are as lean and hungry as you remembered them to be. And, yes, they still trashed the living room.
Seven plays, and what the Bucs defense really wanted was this: More.
"We were supposed to play 10 snaps," Lynch said. "A bunch of guys were trying to talk their way into playing a few more plays. I was one of them."
Granted, seven snaps isn't exactly a tough day at the salt mine. The job will get longer and tougher as the season approaches.
Still, it was nice for the defense to reintroduce itself. The Bucs played most of the starters only three snaps in Japan before the coaches dragged them off the field. By the time the introductions were over, the regulars were out.
This was a little more like it. Remember, this is a team that was still on the wrong side of the Pacific a week ago, and it spent the early part of this week fighting dead legs. The Bucs didn't practice well in midweek, and no one was quite sure how the defense would play.
Still, this is a defense that has always gotten joy out of playing the game. That showed, too.
Oh, you'd like to see longer glimpses of the Bucs' No. 1s the next three weeks. You'd like to see the defense stretched to a half Aug. 18 against the Rams, maybe a little more the following week.
Say what you want about the offense. In the preseason, Bucs fans always talk about the offense, about the quarterbacks, about the line and the backs and the speed and the depth. About the play calling and the possibilities.
But for seven plays, for one quarter, the Bucs reminded us why they'll be in the hunt again this year. Because the defense won't allow them not to be. Because they remain a work in progress.