In easily the best overall effort of the preseason, Tampa Bay looks ready for season opener at New England.
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 26, 2000
TAMPA -- Shaun King is ready. He has watched enough film, memorized enough of the playbook and read enough defenses.
If you're looking for a couple reasons why the 23-year-old quarterback made a remarkable turnaround in Friday's preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, there is this:
First, he turned around and handed the ball to Warrick Dunn.
And if that wasn't impressive enough, he turned around and handed it to Mike Alstott.
|[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Mike Alstott is focused on the end zone after reversing field, breaking five tackles and bulldozing his way for an incredible 1-yard touchdown run.
Proving the running game is still king in Tampa Bay, the A-Train scored a pair of touchdowns and Dunn ripped off his longest run in two years to lead the Bucs to a 37-14 rout of the Chiefs.
In short, the Bucs did everything to prove they are ready for the Sept. 3 regular-season opener at New England.
The defense set the tone on Donnie Abraham's interception on the third play of the game to set up Alstott's first touchdown. Slumping placekicker Martin Gramatica connected on all three field-goal attempts (27, 36 and 41 yards) and boomed the ball deep on kickoffs. And the special teams produced another score on David Gibson's 3-yard return of a fumbled kickoff by the Chiefs' Desmond Kitchings.
It was easily the best overall performance of the preseason by the Bucs (3-1), particularly in resurrecting their once mighty rushing attack.
"We certainly did better than last week," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "It went down just like we scripted ... our defense set the tone early, creating the turnover and setting us up for the score. I really liked what we did the rest of the way. We got some long running gains and our receivers did a nice job blocking down the field."
Thanks to some nifty running by Dunn and Alstott and tenacious downfield blocking by the receivers, the Bucs had 5.2 yards per carry in the first half.
|[Times photo: Joseph Garnett Jr.]
Steve White and Tyoka Jackson had reason to celebrate in their preseason finale.
Dunn showed explosion on his 48-yard run -- his longest in any game since 1998 -- which was made possible by the blocking escort of Pro Bowl receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
Alstott showed power by reversing field, breaking five tackles and bulldozing his way for an incredible 1-yard touchdown run.
King, who struggled Sunday at New England, went 4-for-5 passing for 62 yards with one interception while leading the Bucs on two touchdown drives.
"I thought we were sharp tonight offensively," said King. "We were able to move the ball well. We had one turnover, but we were able to come back and respond right away with a touchdown. It's always important as a unit that we can overcome that adversity.
"I thought our running backs, Mike and Warrick, had some big runs and our receivers did a real nice job blocking downfield."
King's only mistake provided the Chiefs with their lone touchdown. His pass thrown behind Jacquez Green was deflected and intercepted by linebacker Donnie Edwards, who returned it 61 yards.
But the Bucs easily won the turnover battle. They entered the game with an NFL-leading 13 take-aways in the preseason and added four more on three fumble recoveries and an interception.
For some reason, Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac wanted to test Abraham, who swatted away a deep pass to Derrick Alexander to start the game. On third down, Grbac tried to throw a quick out to Alexander and Abraham easily stepped in front of it and returned the interception 12 yards to the Chiefs 12.
"It was a great call on defense. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," Abraham said. "We had been scouting that play all week, so when I noticed it, I jumped all over it."
Meanwhile, the offense simply dominated the first half. Tampa Bay outgained the Chiefs 236 yards to 44, the Bucs were 5-for-7 on third-down conversions and led in time of possession 18:23 to 11:37.
But the most encouraging sign for the Bucs was the rebirth of their running game.
Dunn rushed for 60 yards on just five carries, and Alstott's nose for the end zone was working.
His second touchdown was equal to the one he produced in the NFC divisional playoff game against Washington last season. He made the Chiefs' James Hasty, Jerome Woods, Lew Bush, Eric Warfield and Larry Atkins all peel off of him before sprinting into the end zone.
"It was a straight lead play and they did a great job of congesting the middle, so I bounced out to the left side and the defender had the angle," said Alstott. "But I was able to break a few tackles. My job is to get in the end zone and I was able to accomplish that."
In the end, the Bucs might have accomplished what they wanted in the preseason. Their defense is playing solid and forcing turnovers. They are running the football, throwing it accurately and catching it cleanly. The special teams are improved.
Bring on the Patriots.
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