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Gimme five

JOHN ROMANO
Published December 8, 2003

TALK OF THE TOWN

Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio:

WELCOME BACK TO THE FIGHT: The defensive line, for a change, did not leave the game in the hands of a tattered secondary. The front four combined on five of the seven sacks and stuffed Deuce McAllister. For a team supposedly built around this line, it was the first truly dominating performance since the season opener. (And, no, the shutout of Dallas doesn't count.)

WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT?: Michael Pittman is a serviceable back, but not a game breaker. He's had 382 regular-season carries the past two years and has one run of more than 20 yards. When the receivers are not deep threats and the quarterback is not a scrambler, an offense had better have speed at tailback. That's the dimension Thomas Jones offers. That's what the Bucs need.

IS THAT ALLOWED?: We've made a lot of fun of the special teams this season because, well, they stink. So maybe they can't kick field goals (and sometimes extra points) and they can't run back kickoffs (or even punts), but at least David Gibson is willing to throw his body at a punt.

OLD SCHOOL: Forget Deion Sanders and the other two-way wannabes. Pound for pound (and heaven knows there are more pounds than ever) Warren Sapp is the best two-way player of his generation. Seriously. He's the Bucs' most dependable tight end.

WOULDN'T THIS BE JUST DANDY: The Bucs, who have given up fewer points than any team in the NFL, could be on the verge of history. Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, no team has ever led the league in scoring defense and failed to make the playoffs.

A LIST OF FIVE

Five ways the playoffs are possible:

5. The Seahawks and Packers choke.

4. The Cowboys and Packers choke.

3. The Seahawks and Cowboys choke.

2. The Seahawks, Cowboys and Packers choke.

1. Join the BCS.

FIVE PLAYS IN 102 SECONDS

WITH 1:54 REMAINING IN THE SECOND QUARTER: With New Orleans leading 7-0, Joe Horn drops an easy touchdown pass. The Saints couldn't have known, but it was the beginning of the end.

WITH 1:49 REMAINING: Aaron Brooks fumbles while attempting a pass. Jermaine Phillips picks it up and runs 20 yards.

WITH 1:31 REMAINING: After a Jones run and a Saints face mask penalty, Brad Johnson finds Ken Dilger for a 14-yard TD.

WITH :28 REMAINING: After going nowhere on three downs, Mitch Berger attempts a punt that is blocked by Gibson. Ronde Barber picks it up and runs 20 yards to the 1.

WITH :17 REMAINING: Johnson hits Sapp on a 1-yard TD pass as the clock runs to :12. Five plays, 102 seconds apart, the Bucs go from potentially being down by 14 to being up 14-7.

FIVE SUPER PICKS

Checking out the best bets for Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston:

1. PATRIOTS: Impressive? How about 7-0 against teams with winning records.

2. EAGLES: Bucs lucky they caught Philly early in the season.

3. RAMS: Could wrap up the division title against Seattle next week.

4. COLTS: Peyton Manning moves ahead of Steve McNair in MVP race.

16. BUCS: Up to 17-6 in December since the 1998 season.

FINAL FIVE WORDS

Now, was that so hard?

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