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Defense can't salvage an inept offense

In 1999, defense rescued games when the Bucs offensive unit bungled. But, alas, the old saviors buckled.

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


TAMPA -- For a while, it seemed like old times for the Bucs.

photo
[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Marcus Jones (78) falls after blocking Jason Hanson's 41-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter.
The team set about re-creating its passion-filled style of winning from 1999 against the Detroit Lions on Thursday night.

There was ineffective play from the offense, just like last season. Martin Gramatica delivered picture-perfect field goals, just like last season. And the defense came up with Herculean efforts, just like last season.

But it all went awry for the Bucs defense in the fourth quarter when Detroit drove for two touchdowns to break a tie at 14.

Coming up with critical stops after laying it on the line for 56 plays through three quarters was a lot to ask of the defense, but it was no more than what Bucs coach Tony Dungy constantly asked them to deliver last season.

photo
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Bucs safety John Lynch, who delivered several crushing hits in the game, pressures quarterback Charlie Batch in the second quarter.
They did it seven times in 1999, including a stout effort against Washington (13 points, no offensive touchdowns) in the divisional playoff. But they couldn't do it Thursday night.

If there's a difference between 2000 and 1999, it's that the defense has greater difficulty dealing with the ineptitude of the offense. But to a man, the unit insisted it didn't have difficulty accepting the offensive struggles.

"That's all a part of being a team," defensive tackle Anthony McFarland said. "We pride ourselves as a defensive unit that no matter what's going on, we're going to play. Tonight, regardless of what the offense did, we didn't get the job done on defense."

The whole game was a mixed bag for the defense. It constantly harassed Lions quarterback Charlie Batch, coming up with seven sacks. But it also gave up critical plays and two long scoring drives that ultimately doomed the Bucs.

The first of Detroit's two touchdown drives in the fourth was particularly impressive. The Lions went 54 yards on eight plays with Batch coming up with key throws, including completions of 33 and 14 yards to Johnnie Morton.

"We got away from the seven-step drops," Batch said. "I started taking more three-step drops and getting the ball out of there quickly."

The second touchdown came with the help of James Stewart's 34-yard run.

"Again, I stress it's a one-gap defense and it only takes one person to be out of their gap," said defensive end Marcus Jones, who had a team-record four sacks. "A perfect example is what happened there at the end."

Early on, the Lions appeared to be headed for another dismal effort, much like the one that produced only 10 points against the Bucs in Detroit on Sept. 17. Their first two drives went three and out, and it's third netted 21 yards before ending with Nate Webster blocking John Jett's punt.

But Mike Alstott's second-quarter fumble seemed to energize the Lions. Detroit got only 23 yards before settling for a field goal, but on its next drive, the Lions put together a staggering 12-play, 70-yard drive that climaxed with Stewart's 4-yard touchdown run after 4 minutes and 46 seconds. In terms of plays and time of possession, it was the longest drive allowed by the Bucs defense this season.

The scoring march almost ended on third-and-22 from the Lions 42. But Batch got some time and hooked up with Morton for a 25-yard gain at the two-minute warning. The Lions scored four plays later and then made a two-point conversion to tie the score at 11.

It was a harbinger of things to come in the second half. But free safety Damien Robinson said the loss is not a sign of the Bucs' future.

"It don't matter what everyone else says," Robinson said. "As long as everyone in this room is on the same page. We've got our goals and we're trying to stay focused on what we're trying to do.

"They can jump off the bandwagon, if they want. We're going to stay focused and keep playing. Trouble doesn't last forever."

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