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Special-teams flubs hinder, but don't hurt

Bucs kick units give up long return and surrender ball on onside kick. All involved promise improvements.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 10, 2001

IRVING, Texas -- Special-teams coach Joe Marciano knew what was coming. He knew the tricks the Cowboys were going to try, and he knew the questions that were going to come his way after the game.

"You want to talk about two plays, right?" Marciano said.

Indeed, in a 10-6 Tampa Bay win Sunday at Texas Stadium, two plays in the first quarter by Dallas on special teams stood out. A 77-yard kickoff return and a masterfully called onside kick.

The Bucs said neither play surprised them. And, neither cost them much -- except maybe a little embarrassment. The long return led to a Cowboys field goal, but the onside kick was rendered meaningless two plays later when Dallas quarterback Quincy Carter fumbled a snap.

"We should have played a lot better than we did on special teams," linebacker Shelton Quarles said. "But fortunately we have another week to go back and see what we did wrong and see how they blocked us on those kickoff returns. We have some new guys who haven't played with us before this year, so once those guys get in there and get some more live game action, we'll be okay."

On the kickoff return, which followed Martin Gramatica's 39-yard field goal, the Cowboys lined up in a "funky formation," according to Bucs linebacker Al Singleton. They set up a blocking wedge for return man Reggie Swinton, who broke free along the left side. Ronde Barber eventually ran him down, forcing him into the arms of Singleton, who made what probably was a touchdown-saving tackle at the Bucs 17-yard line.

"They ran something they hadn't worked on and we didn't quite match up right, so the back side was trying to rally," Singleton said. "Ronde made a great play. I thought (Swinton) was gone. I didn't want to be on ESPN running down there, trying to dive."

Marciano said one player didn't cover his lane and that sprung Swinton.

"We had one guy out of the gap and when you play gap-control, just like our run defense, when you're out of your gap, you have a chance to get burned," Marciano said.

The timing of the onside kick was unusual. The Cowboys had just tied the score at 3 with 4:32 left in the opening quarter. Still, Marciano said the Bucs were expecting it.

"We knew it was coming. We were playing for the fakes all the way, even on punts," said Marciano, who singled out rookie long-snapper Sean McDermott for his good snaps. "We knew they had to do that to help their offense get field position. We knew they were going to take a chance."

In fact, Marciano said the Bucs worked on defending onside kicks in practice last week, but "we didn't (recover) them.

"We worked on three onside kicks to the left and didn't get them. We worked three onside kicks to the right and I think we got one of them," he said. "But how many times can you practice against them?"

The Bucs were in their usual formation, but Dallas kicker Micah Knorr bounced a knuckler to the left that landed just beyond the necessary 10 yards. George Teague cradled it, giving Dallas the ball at its 42-yard line.

"At that time of the game, you really don't expect it, but you really have to be ready for everything," Singleton said. "That was actually my play to stop. I just backpedaled, but I couldn't get there quick enough because I got blocked."

In addition to the long kick return and the onside kick, the Bucs were flagged for interfering with a fair catch (Aaron Stecker) and getting hands under an opponent's face mask (Quarles). Neither mistake led to points.

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