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D falling short on its guarantee

In three losses, atypical mistakes leave the Bucs defense perplexed.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000


TAMPA -- The Bucs defense is proud of its 17-point guarantee.

Give us 17 points and we'll assure you a victory, the players have said.

In fact, heading into this season, the Bucs defense pretty much protected any lead and was 27-2 for Tony Dungy when ahead after three quarters.

But Tampa Bay suddenly has blown fourth-quarter leads in two of its past three games.

"When you blow leads in the fourth quarter, that's disappointing," Dungy said. "Even with everything that's gone on, if we do what we normally do and hold our fourth-quarter leads, we're 5-1. But we haven't and we aren't."

In losses to the Jets and at Minnesota, the Bucs managed to score at least 17 points.

Ah, but did anybody read the fine print?

Like most warranties, certain terms and conditions may apply.

1. The 17 points must be scored by the offense. Defensive touchdowns, blocked field goals or punts resulting in scores do not apply.

2. The offer is void if Mike Alstott fumbles with less than two minutes remaining.

3. The guarantee expires after regulation. Overtime games are subject to immediate cancellation of the policy.

4. Gadget plays, such as halfback passes, could result in forfeiture of said guarantee by qualified customers.

5. Anyone related to employees of the Buccaneers, season-ticket holders, Glazer family members and taxpayers in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee counties are not eligible for a refund.

"We had a couple of situations. Last year in Green Bay it happened and that was kind of the last time," Dungy said. "From then on, the guys made up their mind and played with a little more determination. I think that's what we have to do."

In blowing leads to New York and Minnesota, the Bucs beat themselves before the Jets and Vikings had a chance to.

Tampa Bay led by two scores against the Jets when linebacker Derrick Brooks and safety Damien Robinson whiffed on a tackle of running back Curtis Martin, whose 6-yard touchdown on a Vinny Testaverde swing pass left the Jets trailing by a field goal with less than two minutes remaining.

Alstott's fumble two plays later put the defense back on the field. But Brian Kelly lost man coverage on Wayne Chrebet on the run fake by Martin, who tossed an 18-yard touchdown.

"You've got to make the play," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "Against the Jets, we had a two-score lead and there were a couple big plays we didn't make. We get a face-mask penalty on what would've been a third-and-14 deal. We really shouldn't have allowed the flea-flicker. It was a horrible pass. To this day, it was the worst pass thrown all year long. So that shouldn't happen."

Flash back to Monday night's game at Minnesota. The Bucs owned a 23-20 lead after defensive tackle Warren Sapp blocked a field goal and cornerback Donnie Abraham returned it for a touchdown.

The Vikings were driving and had a first down at the Tampa Bay 42. Kiffin called for a corner blitz with Kelly, who got a late jump off the snap and arrived just as quarterback Daunte Culpepper released a game-winning, 42-yard pass to Randy Moss.

"Right before they hit the big play, at that point people might not realize that Randy Moss had two catches and Cris Carter had two catches," Kiffin said. "And we had a blitz called and if you notice, Culpepper just got the ball off. It's just a game of inches, but we were just a little bit late on the blitz.

"I can tell you the same thing happened down here. Last year on Monday Night Football, Jeff George is taking them down the field to win the football game. And on second and 15, Ronde Barber blitzed, and it made it third and long. They couldn't convert and went to fourth down before throwing it out of bounds."

Other mistakes have resulted in big plays. With Minnesota leading 10-7 the Bucs felt they had the perfect blitz called on third and 9. But they called timeout before the snap because they had too many men on the field.

"It would've been a race between John Lynch and Ronde Barber to see who would get there first," Kiffin said. "We had too many men on the field and had to call timeout and the next play was a touchdown to John Davis."

What's extraordinary about those lapses is that the Bucs defense has just one starter -- tackle Anthony McFarland -- who has less than three years experience in the system.

"It's kind of mind-boggling for us in that we're a veteran team and everybody in this system has been home grown," Sapp said. "We can't make the mistakes that we're making against good ballclubs. Against other teams, it doesn't matter. You can put them away.

"I guess it's just the details of our defense that are escaping us right now. ... We've got to find a way to get it fixed and fast."

Playing smarter, not harder, is the answer, according to Kiffin.

"I've always said we pride ourselves on being physical, quick and smart," Kiffin said. "A few times we weren't playing smart this year and that's what we've got to do.

"If you watch the film and you're a well-coached football team, more than not you beat yourselves."

Guaranteed.

Up next

Bucs vs. Lions, 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Raymond James Stadium.

TV: Ch. 28, ESPN.

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