By BRUCE LOWITT, EMILY NIPPS
Published November 25, 2003
TAMPA - Charles Lee had a ball. And then he didn't. And then he did.
Lee's career-long 53-yard touchdown catch with 3:48 left in the first half of the Bucs' 19-13 victory over the Giants Monday night was his first as a Buc and second of his career.
He scored for the Packers on a 3-yard pass against the Vikings in 2001. Green Bay released him after that season, and the Bucs signed him last year.
Lee immediately gave the ball to Justin Lemieux, an Altamonte Springs detective and Lee's criminal justice classmate at Central Florida in 1998-99. They were close friends in college but lost touch when Lee played for the Packers. They reconnected when he joined the Bucs.
Lee called Lemieux on Monday morning to say he had set aside a field pass. "I told him if he scored a touchdown he had to flip the ball to me," Lemieux said. Lee complied, but at game's end he could be seen running off the field with a football in hand.
Lemieux said he also told Lee: " "With Keyshawn Johnson gone, here's your chance to shine.' He's kind of an unknown. All he needs is a chance."
BARBER VS. BARBER: The first "meeting" this season of twins Tiki and Ronde Barber came seven minutes into the game when Tiki, the Giants running back, tried to turn the corner at the left sideline.
Linebacker Shelton Quarles made the initial hit and Ronde, the Bucs left cornerback, came across to finish off the play, holding Tiki to a 2-yard gain.
Far bigger was Ronde's one-on-one touchdown-saving tackle at the end of Tiki's 20-yard burst up the middle to the Tampa Bay 20 with 18 seconds left in the first half. Two plays later, Simeon Rice got his 12th sack, tops in the NFL, forcing a fumble by Kerry Collins to end the half with the Bucs up 14-3.
The Barbers were two of five players in the game with family-line football connections. Bucs linebacker Ryan Nece is the son of Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott. Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica has two younger brothers, also kickers, Bill with the Cardinals and Santiago with South Florida. And Giants receiver Tim Carter is a cousin of Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome, general manager of the Ravens.
GROUNDED: Thomas Jones' 1-yard scoring dive in the second quarter for the game's first points was his first of the season and his first for Tampa Bay. He last scored for the Cardinals at San Francisco last season.
It also was the first Bucs rushing touchdown since Mike Alstott scored two at Atlanta Sept. 21, the third game of the season.
The touchdown was a gift of sorts from the Giants. They were flagged for illegal contact (5 yards and a first down), roughing the passer and grabbing the face mask, the latter when Brad Johnson was sacked on third and goal at the 3. Three plays later, Jones scored.
STREAKS: The Bucs streak of 69 games with a sack ended against the Packers. Warren Sapp started a new one with his fourth of the season, nailing Collins 1:39 before halftime. He got his fifth on one of the game's key plays, on third down in the closing minutes with the Giants deep in their territory.
Sapp's two sacks moved him within two of passing the Bucs' record of 78.5 by Lee Roy Selmon.
Tampa Bay's streak of games with a takeaway stretched to 52 on Quarles' recovery of Collins' fumble at the Bucs 45 midway through the opening quarter. It was Quarles' second of the season in his 100th career game.
It is the NFL's longest active streak and second to the Eagles' 71 from 1985-90.
Brad Johnson's scoring pass to Lee stretched his team-record streak of games with a touchdown to 11, all this season. TRAVARIS WHO?: Keyshawn Johnson wasn't the Bucs' only deactivated player. So was safety Travaris Robinson. He's the rookie who, eight days earlier against Green Bay, kept alive the Bucs takeaway streak by intercepting Brett Favre midway through the third quarter with the score tied at 13. With safety Jermaine Phillips returning from a fractured right forearm, Robinson, claimed off waivers last month, was expendable. PRIME TIME: Playing in nationally televised prime-time games has been hit and miss for the Bucs. They are 15-16 in prime time, including 12-8 at home and 8-6 on Monday night.
The Bucs opened the season with a Monday night victory at Philadelphia in a rematch of last season's NFC Championship Game. Three games later they lost to the Colts on Monday night at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay has one more prime-time game, Sunday night at Jacksonville.