St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Dunn has no problem filling Alstott's role

His 106 yards and two touchdowns, the second to seal the win, keep the offense afloat.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 27, 2000


TAMPA -- This usually is Mike Alstott time:

Late in the game and the Bucs in the lead, looking to put the game away.

Only Sunday, Alstott was on the sideline on crutches. So the responsibility fell on the smaller shoulders and quicker feet of Warrick Dunn.

The diminutive one delivered.

With Tampa Bay leading the Bills 24-17 and the two-minute warning approaching, the Bucs called on Dunn to secure a few first downs. On second and 10, he cut back off left tackle and ran 39 yards for the win-sealing touchdown.

"I thought about that after I scored," said Dunn, who finished with 106 yards on 20 carries. "Mike probably would have had this touchdown. I'm just fortunate that I'm able to get in there towards the end of the game and try to run the clock out. The hole was there for me. (Alstott's) holes are usually that big.

"I think those guys had confidence in me. But if they (didn't), hopefully they do now. And we just have to try and gain some momentum and move forward."

The run was critical not only for the Bucs' playoff hopes but for the man carrying the ball as well. It lifted Dunn over 100 yards for the first time since his 107-yard performance at Jacksonville on Nov. 15, 1998.

"Give Warrick a lot credit," guard Randall McDaniel said. "If you keep giving him the ball, he's going to get one, and you saw that at the end of the game. When we needed it the most, he broke off that long one and iced the game.

"A guy like that, the more you give him the ball, the more time you let him touch it, the more things will happen. Every carry he starts to see what we're doing up front a little better, and then, late in the game, boom -- he's gone."

Dunn's teammates praised him for his overall effort. Late in the second quarter, his falling-out-of-bounds 23-yard reception, the team's longest of the day, took the ball down to the Bills 2-yard line and set up a bootleg touchdown run by quarterback Shaun King.

Then, ahead 10-7, Tampa Bay put together a 10-play, 70-yard drive that chewed up close to six minutes at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters. Dunn had rushes of 6, 7 and 9 yards and capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run.

"I just knew that I could be patient and not just worry about getting taken out of the game," Dunn said. "The thing is, those guys were only giving us 4 yards, 5 yards, 2 yards ... here and there. So we had to be patient with the running game. We had a drive where things started hitting, and that helped the team score a touchdown."

Both of Dunn's touchdown runs came on counter plays in which guard Frank Middleton pulled out to lead the blocking. It was a play the team ran many teams last season.

"We kept running "switch straight,' and (Dunn) saw the linebacker overrun it, and he made a great cut, and he was gone," offensive coordinator Les Steckel said. "That was probably one of the few plays we kept repeating, knowing eventually it was going to pop."

On a day the passing game was not at its best and the team seemed to struggle containing the pass rush, Dunn's numbers also helped ease the offensive line's discomfort.

"I think Warrick needed that," Middleton said. "He needed that for the offensive line; he needed (that) for himself. We needed to know we can block for this guy because we haven't been doing a great job. Sometimes he makes us look good; sometimes we made him look bad. We're going to just keep riding with him."

There is this footnote: Dunn's final run took him to 3,299 career yards, moving him past Alstott (3,293) and into second place on the Bucs' all-time list.

"I have no choice (but become the go-to back)," Dunn said. "The saddest thing, of course, is I want Mike in there because he's a warrior. But he's out, and I just have to pick up where he left off. I'm just going to go out and have fun and play my game."

- Staff writers Rick Stroud and Ernest Hooper contributed to this report.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.