By HUBERT MIZELL
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 27, 2000
TAMPA -- So, after a 31-point Sunday, do you expect me to criticize Tampa Bay's offense?
I think I will.
"As long as we win," receiver Keyshawn Johnson said, "I don't give a (flip)." Key said every bit of that, except for flip.
Buffalo found ways to get eight passes for 102 yards to its prime catcher, Eric Moulds, even against a furious Bucs defense, but Johnson was a No. 1 who embraced a quiet two receptions covering just 15 yards. Not that he wasn't getting open.
"Receivers always think they're open," Johnson said with that glistening smile of his. "If we win doing what we did against Buffalo, that's cool; nothing else much matters."
Oh yeah, it did work for the Bucs, this time. Desperate to win, they put a 31-17 smack on the Bills, but you wonder if the same level of offensive productivity will be okay next week against Dallas, then at Miami, followed by St. Louis and Green Bay.
Total yardage: 180. All the way? No way.
Good for Karl Williams, cracking free for a 73-yard punt-return touchdown. Wonderful effort by Warrick "Big Enough" Dunn, rushing for 106 yards and two scores. It was "Yippee!" as usual for Tampa Bay's defense, especially the 20-tackle wonderworks of linebacker Derrick Brooks.
Even so, Bucs passing does nag. It wasn't quite the Chicago misfire, but close. No matter Keyshawn's words. No matter the sense of Sunday satisfaction of Tampa Bay's bully statesman, Warren Sapp.
Due to Dunn/Williams thunder, the load became less weighty on quarterback Shaun King, who completed 10 of 18 for 106 yards. Buffalo sacked him seven times.
Winning pitcher, nonetheless.
"I don't care about throwing passes all the time if we can run like Dunn did," Johnson said. "If 180 yards (total offense) wins, give me 180 for 16 straight games. If 180 doesn't get it done, then there's a problem."
My stance precisely.
Checking the Bills-Bucs numbers, nothing is of killer importance beyond the 31-17, but some stats should be troubling to Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy and his offensive coordinator, Les Steckel.
Buffalo had a 433-180 advantage in total offense. Tampa Bay had zero turnovers; the Bills fumbled away two. For the home guys, there was a whopping conquest in return yardage, 95 compared with minus-3 for Buffalo. Still, there are Bucs passing results that should bring winces to even the victorious faces.
Chew on this ...
A 4.6-yard Tampa Bay rushing average, acquired mostly on Dunn's deeds, was splendid. But with 66 net yards passing, the average team gain per attempt was a sickly 2.6, less than half the league norm of 6.3 yards a throw. On third-down chances, the Bucs made first downs just twice and failed eight times. We can only imagine what Keyshawn and Warren were thinking in the first quarter when, on one possession, King was sacked three consecutive times, and the next time Tampa Bay got the ball, the quarterback got clobbered again during a series that netted minus-6 yards. "At the beginning, Shaun was a little under stress," Johnson said. "We went away from so many seven-step drops. Warrick cracked some big runs. After that, it was really no performance (for King). We weren't throwing the football much."
It was a gray, drippy afternoon that asked for optimum Dunn patience. Warrick got little gains: 3 yards on a draw, then 1, then 4, waiting for real openings.
"Finally, it happened," said the 178-pound stud from FSU. "I got some great blocks on the first (6-yard) touchdown, then on the second (39 yards), it was the biggest hole I've seen in a long, long time."
Mike Alstott, the 245-pound rhino, was a fullback on crutches with a bum knee. Dunn danced without a partner. Tampa Bay's workhorse looked more like a Shetland pony.
"It was rough, especially early," Dunn said. "But if there's a worry about me having to carry a bigger load, there really shouldn't be."
He's like pro basketball's Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues, the undersized gents who're always having to explain short. Dunn, the little chap, totes big. He labors with less of an injury history than, say, the muscle-bound Alstott.
"People won't accept that I don't take big shots," Dunn said. "When most everybody in football is sore on Monday, I'm not." So what's the reason? Freak of nature? "Ask my grandmother," he said. "I think it's in the genes."
With the Cowboys, Dolphins, Rams and Packers coming, it would be advisable not to further count on 180 yards of offense. It can work at times, especially when your defense is notably nasty and there is sweet stuff such as an edge in turnovers and a 73-yard punt return.
But somewhere, maybe against Dallas or the following challenge in Miami, the Bucs are going to need King to be more voluminous through the air, including locating Keyshawn Johnson on more passes.
Tampa Bay (7-5) can't afford to lose more than one more game, if that. Losing is what you're prone to do with 180 yards of offense, plus getting sacked seven times and averaging 2.6 yards a throw.
But, for one Sunday, it worked.