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Sanders shows why he's still dangerous

In the first four quarters, Deion Sanders has six punt returns for 29 yards. In overtime, Prime Time ends the Bucs' chances.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 2, 2000


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LANDOVER, Md. -- Deion Sanders couldn't even remember the play, but the Bucs probably won't forget it. At least, not for a long time.

Sanders' 57-yard punt return in overtime essentially won Sunday's game 20-17 for the Redskins and left the Bucs foundering after two straight losses.

The play, which Sanders had difficulty replaying after the game, was especially stunning for Tampa Bay because the team had corraled the always dangerous Sanders all day. Before that game-breaker, Sanders had returned six punts for only 29 yards.

"We basically kicked it straight to Deion. We weren't going to kick it away from him. And we contained him all day," Bucs special-teams regular Don Davis said. "We let him out one time and, unfortunately, one time was enough to beat us."

With the Bucs' first possession of overtime stalled at their 15, punter Mark Royals boomed a 50-yarder to Sanders, who fielded the ball on the left side. He headed upfield, cut to his right, made a couple of Bucs miss, then broke to the outside before being caught by Aaron Stecker at the Tampa Bay 8.

Four plays later, Redskins kicker Michael Husted drilled a 20-yard chip shot for the win at FedEx Field.

"The key was getting away from the first guy and the next guy. The next guy (and) the next guy wasn't there like they were the whole night," Sanders said. "I don't even remember the play really. I think I bounced outside some sort of way."

Davis remembers the play vividly. And what he remembers most is that he had a shot to tackle Sanders, but let him slip away.

"We haven't gotten a chance to watch the film, but I know I'm personally sick about it," Davis said. "I was in position to make the tackle and just missed the tackle. And you just can't have that, especially not against the premier players."

Thing is, Sanders had been looking like anything but a premier returner this season. Before Sunday, his longest return was for 11 yards. He was averaging 3.4 yards on 10 returns and hearing whispers that maybe he had lost a step at age 33.

He said all the skepticism made his dazzling overtime return all that sweeter.

"I know how a woman in labor feels, waiting nine months for that baby to come. And, boy did that baby come. She was a big one, wasn't she?" Sanders gloated in front of a throng of reporters. "All you doubters. I've got room on the bandwagon. I'm not taking applications because I know all the mess you've been saying and writing, as if I've been trying to get tackled on every punt return; as if I'm not dodging two or three (would-be tacklers) every time I catch the ball. But it's all right. I'm a forgiving man."

The only disappointing thing for Sanders and the Redskins was that Sanders didn't score on the return. Royals slowed him slightly and forced him inside, where Stecker was able to get him.

The flamboyant Sanders has promised everyone on the team a Rolex if he returns four punts for a touchdown this season.

"We have a motto on the punt return team. Four for the Rol. We score four times, all them get a Rolex, including the coaches," Sanders said. "So that one counts. That one counts toward the Rolex."

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