By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 3, 2001
CINCINNATI -- Early last week, special teams coach Joe Marciano went to cornerback Ronde Barber with a proposal. Marciano said he saw an opportunity for a blocked punt Sunday against the Bengals.
He was right.
"Joe came to me on Tuesday and he asked me, 'Do you want to block a punt this week?' " Barber said. "He said, 'The first time we get the punt, we're going to run the lightning blitz off the corner,' and it played out. He said he noticed the Bengals were trying to let the punter beat the blitz off the corner. He said, 'If you can get there, it's going to be a block. Simple as that.' "
Trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, Marciano called the play on the Bengals' first punt. Barber was virtually unblocked, stuffed the punt and watched reserve tight end Todd Yoder scoop it up and run 11 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
"I had the easy job," Yoder said. "I just had to scoop it and run it in."
For the second-year player, the touchdown was particularly special. It not only was the first of his career, it helped erase the memories of two near misses.
There was the moment in the Metrodome at Minneapolis last season when Yoder had a chance to score on a fourth-down pass from fullback Mike Alstott. The pass was long and Yoder fell dowm trying to adjust to it.
Then Monday night in St. Louis, Brad Johnson overthrew an open Yoder in the back of the end zone on first down from the Rams 19.
Had both been completed, they likely would have resulted in touchdowns. Yoder finally got in, the nontraditional way for a tight end.
"When it started to bounce, it bounced right up into my gut," said Yoder, who kept the ball to place on his mantle at home. "It was a perfect bounce, right in stride and it was off to the races. I knew once I got it no one was going to get me."
STEAMING RICE: Monday, it was Warren Sapp. Sunday, it was Simeon Rice. One thing is certain: The Bucs pass rush, quiet for most of the season, is starting to bring down the quarterback.
Rice, acquired as a free agent in the offseason, had two sacks against the Bengals, including an 8-yard loss of Jon Kitna that led to the blocked punt.
"Things are starting to come on strong for me, really since the Green Bay game," Rice said. "Moreover, I'm getting into a routine, getting more comfortable."
IN GOOD HANDS?: He has had a couple of costly fumbles in his career, but before Sunday's muff in the third quarter, Alstott has protected the ball fairly well. Entering the game, Alstott had not fumbled on a rushing play this season. He lost one fumble on a reception in the third quarter against the Bears.
But with the Bucs marching deep into Bengals territory late in the third quarter, Alstott lost the ball at the end of a 10-yard first-down reception. The ball was recovered by safety Chris Carter. Alstott has fumbled 25 times in his six-year career, losing 20. By comparison, Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, in his fifth season, has four fumbles this season and 14 for his career.
MR. CONSISTENCY: When he came to Tampa Bay, Johnson was known for his high completion percentage. The Bucs quarterback showed that skill against the Bengals. He completed his first 14 passes, which added to his last completion against the Rams tied him with Steve DeBerg's team record of 15 straight completions. DeBerg set the mark against the Vikings on Sept. 14, 1986. It also was Johnson's career best. His mark of 13 straight was set in Green Bay on Sept. 21, 1997.
STILL TICKING: He lost his starting position to Brian Kelly, but Pro Bowl cornerback Donnie Abraham hasn't stopped playing. Abraham's interception of Kitna in the fourth quarter not only marked the 15th straight game the Bucs have had a pick (a team record), it gave him the 29th of his career, tying him with Cedric Brown for the franchise record.
"Yes, I do realize I tied the record. I think about those things," Abraham said. "It's a great milestone any time you can come to a team, no matter how many picks it is, and tie a record."
Abraham said he has approached coming off the bench no differently than he approached starting.
"We said from all along that we have three starting corners here," Abraham said. "Brian is in there and I'm out, but when I'm in there I have to play like a starter, I have to play the best I can. It hasn't changed my agenda."