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Bucs defense feasts on NFL's elite backs

Marshall Faulk? No problem. Corey Dillon? Ditto. The Bucs have gotten well on the league's best.

By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 3, 2001


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CINCINNATI -- It took several years for the Rams' Marshall Faulk and the Bengals' Corey Dillon to set some of the NFL's rushing records.

The Bucs defense had only six days to make sure they didn't add to them.

"Both are marquee running backs. Probably the best weapon in the game and the other is the best power runner in the game," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "You had to eliminate them both."

After limiting Faulk to 55 yards rushing Monday in a 24-17 win at St. Louis, the Bucs held Dillon to 79 yards on 23 carries and forced a critical fumble in overtime Sunday that led to a 16-13 victory over the Bengals.

"Dillon and Faulk. You don't realize, those guys can break a play any time," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "(Dillon) isn't just a big, strong guy. That's a fast back. We had to pursue him hard and I think we did for the most part."

Dillon's longest run Sunday was 16 yards, but he scored the tying touchdown with 8 seconds remaining in regulation on a 6-yard pass from Jon Kitna.

But Dillon went from hero to goat when his 14th career fumble was forced and recovered by safety John Lynch at the Bengals 3-yard line in overtime, setting up Martin Gramatica's winning 21-yard field goal.

"That's important," coach Tony Dungy said. "Someone has to step up and make plays, and we've had different guys do it. That was huge, getting that ball back (at the 3) and not having to fight for field position again."

With the sprained left foot of linebacker Derrick Brooks nearly completely healed and the defensive line coming to life, Lynch said the Bucs are back.

"We're playing good defense right now. We're getting people to the ball, we're tackling well," he said. "We're forcing turnovers. Our front four is generating pressure. All of the things that have made us good, we're doing it.

"Corey broke out of there on one play and (safety) Dexter (Jackson) made a sure tackle. A 12-yard gain early in the year, that was becoming a 45-yard gain. Those are the things that make us good."

Stopping Dillon was the key for the Bucs, who did not believe they could be beaten by Kitna, who finished 19-of-38 for 144 yards. Kitna was sacked three times, twice by Simeon Rice, and was intercepted by Donnie Abraham.

"We were getting off the field on defense, we were holding Dillon down. He wasn't really doing anything," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We just didn't capitalize on some of the opportunities we had."

As a result, Dillon and the Bengals rallied for 10 points in the final six minutes to force overtime.

"You always want to go out and win handily," Rice said. "But the game is not played like that. The game is played with blood, sweat and tears. It keeps you honest like that.

"Once you feel like it should be easy, it's a dogfight. And it's slowly slipping away if you're sitting on top of the hill."

Barber said he couldn't believe it took Dillon's fumble in overtime for the Bucs to walk away from Paul Brown Stadium with a victory.

"It's a question mark," Barber said. "It's why I'm cussing on the sidelines during the game. It shouldn't have come down to that. But it did and we had to find a way to win it.

"I'd like to blow somebody out once in a while. It seems like 10 of our 11 games have come down to a two-minute drive. Over the years, that's been our persona. Instead of going for the kill early and just taking teams out, we've always let teams hang around and always have to make a play at the end."

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