The Bucs defense is back to its physical, aggressive style, and the results are noticeable.
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 12, 2000
TAMPA -- His helmet went off, followed by the light bulb in his head. Sandwiched in a violent collision, Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler was knocked out of the game.
An ambulance was waiting to take him to Piedmont Hospital, where neurologists were standing by to clear the cobwebs.
Teammate Jamal Anderson wasn't nearly as fortunate.
The beating the Bucs defense gave to Anderson for four quarters last week might have been criminal if it had not occurred in an NFL game.
Late in the first half, linebacker Derrick Brooks hit Anderson so hard that he lifted the running back off his cleats. In the third quarter, Anderson took a check-down pass from quarterback Danny Kanell and was blasted so hard by Brooks that the linebacker catapulted his own helmet several yards downfield.
|[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Warren Sapp's howl after a sack against Detroit is an example of Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson's characterization of the defense: "They tend to scare people a little bit."
"That's why I think Derrick Brooks is the best tackler in the NFL," Fox analyst Tim Green said.
At one point, Anderson looked to his bench with his arms spread wide, as if to plead for the Falcons to stop making him cross I-75 blindfolded in rush hour traffic.
Rookie linebacker Nate Webster joined the frenzy, taking a bite out of Anderson on a fullback lead running play.
When the Bucs defense is playing at its best, it makes sure the tackles don't tickle.
Tampa Bay swarms to the ball like an under-6 soccer team. When it arrives there, it is one part smash mouth and two parts trash mouth.
"When you're on your game, you can pretty much do whatever you want," said defensive tackle Warren Sapp, an expert witness. "Nate goes out there and does some crazy things. I mean, the ref came to me and said, "Tell 55 to calm down.' I said, "Okay.' I didn't want him to know it was 52. So now he's looking at Derrick (No. 55), and I know Derrick is not going to say too much. Now when he looks at Nate, he thinks he's got to tell 52 the same thing. I told Nate, "You get about 10 more games in you in this league and they'll let you do whatever you want.'
"Like a great defender in the NBA that gets away with a couple of fouls, I get away with a couple on the edge plays. Once you get through this league, you know all the referees, you know them on a first-name basis. If they know you that well to where they know you're not out there with malice in your heart, they're going to allow you to do a little more."
Coach Tony Dungy said the Bucs' style is about being physical. And it involves physics.
"I guess it goes back to high school physics where it's mass plus acceleration," Dungy said.
"I don't know that you intimidate people in the NFL, but you can take a toll on people. I think you win games in the third and fourth quarter by being physical, and that was good to see that part of our game come back."
Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson, a tough player who is not afraid to go over the middle against anyone, says opposing players grow wary of taking a beating against Tampa Bay's defense.'
"They scare you. They tend to scare people a little bit," Johnson said of the defense. "If (the defense is) hitting them, you start to see guys taking little sneak peeks here and there."
Talk about a hit show.
It begins up front with Sapp, nose tackle Anthony McFarland, Marcus Jones and Chidi Ahanotu, who need three sacks to combine for the club record.
Brooks and Webster pack a wallop, and safety John Lynch is always dropping the anvil. When somebody blows up a ball carrier the way Brooks did, the fuse is lit for the rest of the defense.
"It fires you up, and I think that kind of stuff is contagious," Lynch said. "That's why typically when you see a game early on when there's that type of hitting, all of a sudden everybody wants to get some of that action. And the next thing you know, it's a frenzy out there. That's the kind of atmosphere we'd like to have. The impressive thing about last week is it's not easy to do at home, but it's a lot easier to feed off the emotion of the crowd. But when you can bring that on the road, bring that every week, that's what you're looking for."
Kill shots are rare in the NFL, but players like Lynch and Webster thrive on them.
"I've always said it's like hitting a ball in the sweet spot of a bat," Lynch said. "The very best hits, you don't feel a thing." Said Webster: "It's just the thrust. And once you get that contact, you open your eyes, and he ain't there no more."
When the Bucs looked into Chandler's eyes, he wasn't all there no more.
The league fined defensive end Steve White $7,500 last week for a helmet-to-helmet blow on the Falcons quarterback.
"To be honest with you, I wasn't trying to hit him in the helmet," White said. "He had come off a block, and I was trying to hit him in the shoulder. He ducks, and our heads kind of collide for a second. Then Sapp comes to hit him and knocks his helmet off. He was like out of it."
Dungy doesn't condone headhunting, but he wants his defense to exchange pain for no gain on a play.
"You don't like to see people get hurt, but it was guys coming aggressively to the football," Dungy said.
"Sometimes you get so caught up in offensive game plans and how they're going to attack you and being where you're supposed to be that sometimes you lose track of the basics of the game. And the basics are still blocking, tackling, hitting. The last two weeks I think we've gotten back to that."
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