By ROGER MILLS and ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000
TAMPA -- As therapeutic as Sunday's win against the Vikings may have been, the Bucs aren't likely to be lulled into a sense of security.
After all, Tampa Bay is 4-4 and three games behind Minnesota in the Central Division. Work still needs to be done.
"We're still close to the bottom right now," quarterback Shaun King said. "We've got a ways to go."
One thing the Bucs are not likely to do -- at least if coach Tony Dungy has his way -- is look at what other division opponents are doing.
"I haven't really looked at the schedule, other than Atlanta (which the Bucs play Sunday)," Dungy said. "You never know. You don't know who's going to be playing well, who's not, who's hurt, who's healthy. What we have to focus on is practicing and playing well, not who we're playing.
"What we have to worry about is to make sure we're doing our job and winning, and somewhere down the line, if we continue to win, we'll be able to look at what other people are doing."
As adamant as team members are about focusing on the Falcons, no one is ready to concede the division title, nor to eliminate the possibility of a Vikings collapse.
"I think last year at this time Detroit was in first place, halfway through," Dungy said. "They had just beaten St. Louis. So, you don't know what's going to happen; you just have to play and play well and win as many games as you can. You can't count yourself out of a race, can't count yourself in. I'm sure Denny (Green, Vikings coach) is not up there saying, "Hey, we're three games or two games ahead; we can coast in 'cause no one is going to catch us.' You have to be able to play each week and not really worry about what anybody else is doing."
JUST THROW HIM THE BALL: As a sign of the growing trust between King and Keyshawn Johnson, King threw the ball to Johnson on Sunday at times when the receiver seemed double covered.
"That's something as a quarterback you have to develop because when you throw it in double coverage and it gets picked, it's not going to come back on the receivers, you know what I mean," King said. "That's what I'm talking about when I say trust. I can depend on this guy where if he doesn't catch it, I know it's not going to be a pick."
MIDWAY REPORT: Considering the arrival of a new offensive coordinator, a new No. 1 receiver and two offensive linemen, the Bucs anticipated bumps in the road this season. But Dungy admitted Monday the losses to the Jets and Lions were the two major setbacks of the first half of the season.
"I didn't figure we'd lose two home games, and that was probably the most disappointing thing out of the first half," Dungy said. "To have two games where you're ahead, have pretty much control of the game, and lose . . . . We've dug ourselves a little bit of a hole. But I think in the four games we've won, we've shown what we're capable of. Now we have to be able to do that more consistently in the second half of the year. If we're able to do that, we should be fine."
FRIENDLY COMPETITION: Receiver Reidel Anthony said there's a friendly competition among the receivers. Though Johnson leads the team in receptions with 38 and Jacquez Green leads in yards (512), Anthony leads the team in touchdown receptions (three). Johnson and tight end Dave Moore both have two.
"(Johnson) called all my touchdowns flukes, so I was like, "I only got three; how many do you have?' " Anthony said, laughing. "No, it's just a little competition between the receivers. We know we're not going to get a lot of opportunities to catch touchdowns; when someone does, we just support them."
Miffed that none of the group got a game ball after Sunday's effort, the receivers gathered together after Monday's practice and shouted "1, 2, 3, game ball," for everyone to hear.
"I didn't vote," Dungy joked, pointing out that the players vote. "The offensive line is like California; if you carry them, you win the election."
QUOTABLE: Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin on Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper: "You can't get this guy down. This guy's unbelievable. We could have had five or six sacks, but the guy is so strong. If he decides not to play quarterback, I'll take him as a linebacker."