Mike Alstott's 129 yards rushing and three TDs and the return of a formidable defense get the Bucs well in a hurry.
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 29, 2001
TAMPA -- It was a home remedy that worked again Sunday for Tony Dungy and the Bucs.
You take aspirin for a headache. You take antacid for an upset stomach. You take an antihistamine for a stuffy nose.
And if you are the Bucs feeling lousy about a losing streak, take the Vikings and devour them at home. Facing falling even further behind in the NFC Central, the Bucs played a near-perfect game and pounded Minnesota 41-14. It was the fifth time in six seasons Dungy's team has beaten Minnesota at home (It lost 10-6 in 1997.) and their most complete victory of the season.
The Bucs' dormant running game, ranked 30th entering Sunday, pulverized the Vikings behind Mike Alstott, who rushed for 129 yards and tied a team record with three touchdowns.
Quarterback Brad Johnson passed for 214 yards and two scores but received his loudest ovation and took a bow for a pass he didn't complete -- a deep ball to Reidel Anthony.
Finally, the Bucs defense did not allow the explosive Vikings a first down until 10:05 left in the third quarter.
"They kicked our (butts) in the first half, and they came out in the second half and kicked our (butts) again," Vikings tight end Byron Chamberlain said. "And if there had been a third half, they probably would have kicked it, too."
The Bucs led 28-0 at halftime, 34-0 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter and 41-8 entering the fourth quarter. The Bucs didn't just punch Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper in the nose, they broke it when he was hit by linebacker Derrick Brooks on their second play. "That's the Tampa Bay everybody was expecting to see earlier in the year," Vikings receiver Cris Carter said. "So to us, it's not a surprise."
Culpepper, who was sacked twice and intercepted once, did not complete a pass to Randy Moss until 8:30 left in the third. Dungy knows winning cures everything in the NFL, and little has helped the Bucs win more than a Vikings visit to Tampa.
A year ago, Tampa Bay snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Minnesota 41-13. In 1998, the Bucs were 3-4 when they beat the Vikings 27-24. And Dungy lost his first five games as coach until the Vikings showed up in '96 and lost 24-13. Perhaps that's why Saturday night, Dungy spliced together film of the Vikings' 35-13 win over Green Bay on Oct.21 and Tampa Bay's 41-13 win over Minnesota at home last season.
"When you get it done against Minnesota, you know you can blow them away pretty good," said Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who sat out the second half with a bruised right knee. "That was one of the messages that stuck in our mind as we slept last night in our hotel rooms. We just felt coming out here that things would click for us."
Dungy was awarded the game ball by his players following the rout.
"The only thing we had to convince them of was it doesn't matter who it is. We've got enough good players, whether it's Karl Williams, Frank Murphy, Aaron Stecker," Dungy said. "Guys can get the job done. We lost (Anthony McFarland) early, and James Cannida goes in there. But when you're playing well, that's what it's all about. And that's the sign of a good team."
What could have been a sign of bad things to come occurred on the opening kickoff. Rookie Dwight Smith, who has struggled catching the ball, fumbled, regaining control just before stepping out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 4. On the first play, Alstott lost 3 yards. And after a 29-yard punt by Mark Royals, the Vikings started at the Bucs 48. "As a defense, we were kind of smiling," safety John Lynch said. "(Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin) put on the board last night that I hope we face adversity early. 'I want to see how we respond.' We were all kind of laughing in the huddle saying, 'Here it is. Do something."'
The Bucs did. The Vikings' first seven possessions included five three-and-outs, a one-play drive that ended the first half and an interception. At halftime, Tampa Bay held a 20-0 advantage in first downs, a 22:47 to 7:13 margin in time of possession and a 297-44 edge in total yards.
Alstott, starting at tailback for the injured Warrick Dunn, took over the game, scoring on runs of 3 and 6 yards in the first half and 10 yards in the third quarter.
He tied the team record for touchdowns in a game set by himself on Dec.27, 1998, against Cincinnati, Dunn on Dec.18, 2000, against St. Louis and Reggie Cobb on Nov.20, 1991, against Detroit. "It looked like by the third series their defense had quit for them," Keyshawn Johnson said. "At that point, we knew that. "Those guys didn't really want to tackle (Alstott) after a couple times of running into him. It was kind of like, 'Nah, we don't want any part of that.' Once you sense that, you just kind of know they're in for a pretty good butt-kicking."
Even when the Vikings knew what was coming, they couldn't stop it. A screen pass that Stecker took 35 yards for a touchdown was detected by the Vikings before the snap.
"When we lined up on Aaron Stecker's screen touchdown, their linebackers were yelling, 'Screen! Watch the screen!"' said tight end Dave Moore, who caught a 5-yard touchdown pass.
"I don't know whether they knew it from our formation or from where Aaron was in the backfield. But they knew it was coming, and it was still a 35-yard touchdown. That tells you it comes down to execution, not necessarily play-calling."
So once again, when they had one foot in the coffin, the Bucs remain alive entering an NFC Central showdown at Green Bay on Sunday. Sometimes, you have to swallow hard and take your medicine.
"Do you sit here and say we played bad? Yeah, but a lot of that was induced by them and what they did," Carter said. "They ran with passion when they had the ball. The guys weren't going to go down. That's a good football team in the other locker room, and they played like that today."
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