The Bucs were comfortable after halftime, but trailed entering the fourth. Things could have been much worse.
By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 13, 2000
TAMPA -- The Bucs have outscored opponents 43-22 in the third quarter this season, but that margin would be even greater if the team had not turned in one of its worst third-quarter performances in a 20-15 victory Sunday against Green Bay.
The fourth-quarter heroics of Shaun King and Martin Gramatica would not have been as dramatic if the Packers had not taken a lead, thanks primarily to the Bucs' play after halftime.
The Bucs offense managed two completions for 10 yards, and its rushing attack netted nothing. The Bucs defense gave up 92 yards, six first downs and a 21-yard pass that eventually would lead to the Packers' go-ahead touchdown on a fake field goal at the outset of the fourth quarter. In 15 minutes and 51 seconds, Tampa Bay had gone from a 14-3 lead to a 15-14 deficit.
"They were able to move the ball a little bit and, fortunately, we just hung in there well enough until we could get some things going in the fourth quarter," coach Tony Dungy said.
Offensively, Tampa Bay struggled to piece together a drive because one of its key pieces was on the sideline. Starting tight end Dave Moore was less than ready after a tackle on his 22-yard reception gave him a mild concussion.
"I couldn't remember what plays I was running so I had to sit down for a while," Moore said. "I remember catching it and then turning, and the next thing you know, I got a towel on my head on the sideline."
Dungy said the loss of Moore took away the team's ability to run two-tight end sets, a formation the Bucs used to help running back Warrick Dunn gain 52 yards on 10 caries in the first half.
"We actually lost a little bit on offense after Dave Moore got a little nicked up, he said. "He was able to come back in the game, but while he was out, it kind of hurt us as far as a package we wanted to run."
Green Bay's defense played a big role in knocking the Bucs out of synch. The unit blitzed more in the third quarter, hurrying the passes of King and stuffing running back Mike Alstott for a four-yard loss on what appeared to be a run blitz. The Packers also returned to double coverage on receiver Keyshawn Johnson after he caught five passes for 51 yards in the first half.
"We tried to pass a little bit more and they started blitzing," Bucs guard Frank Middleton said. "Blitzing is the answer to everything. Whenever an offense has a good half and you start blitzing, it takes away a lot of things we do, and we just kind of got away from our game plan because of the blitz."
King completed two passes -- 5-yarders to Jacquez Green and Alstott -- and he was intercepted by Antuan Edwards when his pass sailed over Green's outstretched hands on a crossing route.
The offensive line was penalized twice for false starts, and each time the infraction took away an apparent first down.
It didn't help that the Bucs struggled with field position. The team had four possessions in the third quarter and the average starting spot was the Bucs 22-yard line. The lack of offense gave the Packers an average starting spot of the Bucs 45.
"It felt like we were losing the field-position battle the whole second half," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We couldn't never get them pinned down deep."
Defensively, the Packers had success by coming out early in the third quarter with a no-huddle attack that took the ball from their 33 to the Bucs 19-yard line.
"It caught us off-guard," Barber said. "We had a couple of blitzes that we couldn't get executed, but I think we showed some character because there were some times when we weren't covering anybody but we still didn't let them get any big plays on us. That's what a veteran defense can do for you."
The unit also recorded a big play of its own when Warren Sapp sacked Brett Favre on a third and 9 from the Tampa Bay 19. Not only did that force Green Bay to kick a field goal, but it knocked Favre out of the game with a sprained foot.
That and keeping the Packers out of the end zone were the only positives of a nightmarish quarter for the Bucs.