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Bucs seek to bury bad mojo at dome

By ROGER MILLS, ERNEST HOOPER and RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2000


TAMPA -- The last time the Bucs played at the Silverdome, it was their lowest point in the past 12 months.

The Bucs suffered a humiliating 20-3 loss that saw a touchdown taken away by review, a fumble at the Lions 1 and a fumble return for a touchdown. The offense hadn't scored a touchdown in two games and backup quarterback Eric Zeier injured a rib in his first and only start in place of benched Trent Dilfer.

The club was 3-4, with playoff hopes on life support.

Since then, the Bucs have made a remarkable turnaround, going 11-2 counting the playoffs. It's the best stretch in team history, and coach Tony Dungy is eager to see it continue as Tampa Bay prepares to return to Pontiac.

"We've played well probably since that game," Dungy said. "That was Week 7 and maybe the low point for us. We want to keep that going and see if we can play consistently, and that's why this game is big for us, to be able to go up and play well at a place that we traditionally haven't done that."

MEASURING PRODUCTION: Receiver Keyshawn Johnson has six receptions for 96 yards in two games, but by no means is he complaining.

"I'm excited any time you can win ballgames," Johnson said. "I've been down this road before when statistically your numbers don't always look that good, but you're winning football games and you're effective doing other things. As long as you can stay mentally focused, then you can help the team in that aspect."

Johnson also said the numbers are slightly misleading. In the game against Chicago, Johnson had two receptions negated by penalties, and he also believes he was the victim of two interference penalties that weren't called.

"So I probably got the ball thrown to me six times," he said.

NO BIGGIE: It was embarrassing for the franchise and more so for the player, but the Bucs don't plan to hand down any stiff penalties to starting safety Damien Robinson, who was arrested Tuesday on a bad check warrant.

"It's nothing," Robinson said. "I'll clear it up."

Robinson was pulled over when Tampa police officers noticed him driving the wrong way down Armenia Avenue. A check of his name in the records showed he was wanted for failing to appear on a misdemeanor bad-check charge. He was booked at 2:30 a.m. and posted bond minutes later.

Robinson explained briefly that the outstanding check came from a car registration bill he failed to pay. Apparently after bouncing the check, Robinson moved, and he said the follow-up notices went to his previous address.

"I never got any of them," said Robinson, who said that the outstanding bill was for "about $80."

Dungy, who has made it clear he will not tolerate brushes with the law and who cut receiver Darnell McDonald in training camp after NcDonald was arrested on an assault charge, supported Robinson.

"We don't like to see our guys in the newspaper, but I've driven with expired tags before," Dungy said. "We talked to him about not being in the newspaper, but this is not one of those high-level situations."

COMFORT ZONE: Two games into his career as a starter, defensive tackle Anthony McFarland has six tackles and has helped the Bucs forget the release of veteran Brad Culpepper. More important, McFarland has jelled with Warren Sapp and has gotten a thumbs-up grade from his new linemate.

"I've always felt comfortable with him, it's a matter of him feeling comfortable with himself," Sapp said. "(He's) playing the run and doing the things he needs to do to get better as a player. I think he's doing that each week he goes out, and that's all you can ask."

MILESTONE MAN: Receiver/punter Karl Williams enters Sunday's game with 99 career receptions and 96 punt returns. The third-down receiver could reach 100 in both categories, and that hasn't gone unnoticed by his coach.

"I would think it is (quite a milestone for a free-agent signee from Texas A&M Kingsville)," Dungy said. "Karl has done a great job for us and is really a steady and dependable guy. That's a great stat, and not many people are able to do that."

SUPPORTING KNIGHT: Deposed Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight may be surprised to learn he has an ally on the Bucs. Johnson likened Knight's style to that of Bill Parcells and said the coach's record of graduating players who succeed in life should be the focus.

"I can play for Bobby Knight," Johnson said. "He wouldn't grab me because I wouldn't give him a reason to grab me, so I wouldn't worry about it. I played for Parcells and that's the same type of person."

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