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The pizazz era begins with spike and Spike

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By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 4, 2000


FOXBORO, Mass. -- Now that's creativity!

In a shocking, quite theatrical, TD-generating Sunday moment, Tampa Bay's remodeled offensive soul gushed with unprecedented imagination, a fake spike catching the Patriots with their muskets down.

Bucs trailed 10-7. Racing the second-quarter clock. Thirty-five seconds before halftime. In such situations, to spare precious time quarterbacks routinely halt the ticker by taking a snap and immediately slamming the football to earth.

Watch out, suckers!

All summer the Bucs rehearsed a faux spike. "It's the kind of play you practice a thousand times," general manager Rich McKay said, "knowing you might never get to use it once."

Sunday brought optimum opportunity. Les Steckel, new on the job as offensive coordinator, made the call, hoping all 11 of his players got the muted cue but that New England suspected nothing.

It requires some acting. Fooling the enemy. Shaun King looked to his bench, mouthing, "Stop the clock?" Ah, theatrics. As the QB took the football from center Jeff Christy, the supporting cast went full-hearted into thespian work.

"I did nothing, turning my back on the line, suggesting disinterest," said wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Mike Alstott, a beefy running back, stood with hands on hip, siesta look on his face. Tight end Dave Moore came out of his stance in a lazy walk.

The Patriots took the bait. Reidel Anthony, the other Bucs wideout, lined up especially close to right tackle Jerry Wunsch. Part of the scam. New England needed another Paul Revere, somebody to warn, "The redshirts are coming with trickery!"

Taking the biggest bite of the bait was Pats cornerback Kato Serwanga. He relaxed. Was almost snoozing. Buying a spike was coming. Anthony suddenly erupted into a sprint toward the end-zone right corner. King, instead of firing the football at grass, lofted an 8-yard touchdown pass to Anthony.

Pats never did catch up.

The play was huge. It was not just a TD play but a major jolt of invigoration, for Bucs players and more. It pumped warmer blood into veins of Tampa Bay followers. Fans patterns of Bucs offensive thinking not so stale and predictable as before.

Dan Marino, in 1994, used a fake spike against the New York Jets, throwing for the winning touchdown. Not a bad dude for King to be emulating, in whatever ways. And the losing Jets coach was Pete Carroll, who was fired as Patriots boss after last season.

Knockout deja vu.

Watching the King fake spike from the Bucs sideline was the real Spike, movie producer/director/writer Spike Lee. Wearing a Tampa Bay ball cap. A skinny bloke who, in the game's closing seconds, begged, "C'mon, D!"

The Bucs did withstand. Surviving 21-16. Success on the NFL road seldom comes easily. Tampa Bay could've coasted, but the Bucs haven't quite cultivated that knack. Hey, just for fun, maybe the Bucs should retitle that QB fake in the playbook, calling it Spike Lee.

Hey, it's the pizazz era.

Tampa Bay keeps inching upward in its pursuit of brighter, more efficient offense. "Piece by piece, game by game, it's coming," said Alstott, who scored two touchdowns against New England. "We're going to be on the upgrade for weeks, even years."

Johnson, celebrated newcomer to the offensive cast, plays football with extreme passion. He talks a lot. Has little patience for mediocrity. You knew Keyshawn would help artistically, but you wondered how he might take to Tampa Bay's characteristically ultraconservative scheme.

"We did a good job," Johnson assessed, perspiration soaking through his stylish tan civvies as the Bucs dressed to fly home. "They told us to score 21 and it'd be good enough to win. We did; it was."

A surprise element was Randall McDaniel, a wondrous old Minnesota left guard who is new to the Bucs, spending several plays at fullback, blocking for Alstott, especially in goal-line offense. Also in the fourth quarter when Tampa Bay scrambled to hold off the Pats.

"They said I was needed back there, with Kevin McLeod out (on injured reserve)," McDaniel said. "I played fullback for seven or eight years with the Vikings in goal-line situations. It'd been a couple of seasons. I felt a little rusty."

Though the taste of Bucs offense was reasonably sweet on this opening Sunday, there was a nasty drop-off in the second half, allowing New England's rally. The killer instinct remains suspect.

"We did well with our third-down plays in the first half (converting 6 chances in 10), but that became a disappointment later on," coach Tony Dungy said. "With just one or two first downs down the stretch, we could've put New England away, making that late defensive stand unnecessary.

"On third down, we stopped getting it done (with an 0-for-6 second half). That's something we must work on and improve. But there were many positives, including a solid game by Shaun, with zero turnovers. Still, we should've put the game away long before those challenging final seconds."

Spike Lee agreed.

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