By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 22, 2001
TAMPA -- There's this funny thing about protection. It has to protect.
Not shelter, not weather, but PROTECT.
In Sunday's 17-10 home loss to the Steelers, the Bucs offensive line seemed to forget the concept.
The statistics will point to 278 total yards, to 64 yards rushing at 3.4 per carry and most glaringly to a quarterback who got sacked 10 times and hurried a bunch more.
But that was the good news. In many ways, the performance was worse.
"Right now, this is the worst loss I have ever been a part of in my football career," starting right guard Cosey Coleman said. "Not so much the score, but for the fact of how we played.
"We got our (butts) kicked today," he said. "And I'll tell you what, the (stats) really didn't show it. I don't have the answer. I don't know if we were in the wrong place or just not executing."
Offensive line coach Chris Foerster said: "They beat us, and at times we beat ourselves. It wasn't any one thing. Any time you give up as many sacks as we gave up today, there are a lot of things that went wrong. Everybody takes their blame for the sacks, and this will be no different. When we look at the tape and talk about it tomorrow, we'll see it was this guy one time, this guy another time, then another guy a third time and on and on."
The Steelers entered Raymond James Stadium holding on to the NFL's top defensive ranking and promptly justified that against an offense with six players who have been to the Pro Bowl.
The Steelers not only stopped the run and ravaged Brad Johnson in what seemed to be play after play, they batted down a number of passes and drilled the quarterback even on completions.
Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter routinely blitzed along with several others and finished with a game-high four sacks. Then there's this fact: The Steelers' 10-sack effort tied the Bucs franchise record set in 1977 for sacks allowed in a game and equalled Pittsburgh's single-game mark, which it accomplished three times in the '90s.
"The plan was to go after (Johnson) as much as we can," Porter said. "They've been saying our defense is not what it's hyped up to be. So, we were like, 'Let's go out there and show them who has the best defense.'
"Everyone knows that Tampa Bay has a good defense, but right now, we have the No. 1 defense. So it was our job to go out there and prove it."
It proved it, even the Bucs admitted, by constantly blitzing and bringing more defenders than Tampa Bay's offensive line and running backs could handle.
"I can't ... believe (what happened)," rookie left tackle Kenyatta Walker said. "They blitzed us with every snap. They even blitzed us under maximum protection. It was horrible. It was a horrible day for me. Ten sacks? There's no other way to say it than it was a bad game, a bad game by the offense."
Pro Bowl center Jeff Christy said: "We have to see what happened and get it corrected. I know it's going to take time with the new offense, and I know you get tired of hearing that. But a performance like that is absolutely inexcusable for an offense with as many good players as we've got. At some point, we have to block somebody."
Though most will remember the sacks as a product of Pittsburgh's relentless blitzing and Tampa Bay's breakdown in protection, there was some feeling in the locker room that Johnson was guilty of holding onto the ball a few seconds too long.
"I don't know if the quarterback wasn't making the reads or what, but we weren't getting the ball off," Coleman said. "I don't know if we were holding it too long, but we only had five or six or seven guys and they are bringing eight. The quarterback has to know that and has to get rid of that thing."
-- Staff Writer Darrell Fry contributed to this report.
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