By PETE YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000
TAMPA -- Monday's game began in almost identical fashion to last season's NFC Championship Game between the Rams and Bucs.
On the first play of the title game, Tampa Bay defensive end Steve White intercepted Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, giving the Bucs the ball at the Rams 20. Martin Gramatica kicked a 25-yard field goal to put Tampa Bay ahead 3-0.
On the third play of Monday's game, Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber picked off Warner, giving Tampa Bay possession at the St. Louis 20. Four plays later, Gramatica kicked a 35-yard field goal.
OVER THE TOP: Bucs running back Warrick Dunn entered Monday's game needing 52 yards rushing to surpass 1,000 for the season for the second time in his career.
He did it in spectacular fashion. At 999 approaching the final play of the third quarter, Dunn took a swing pass from quarterback Shaun King -- it was ruled a lateral and thus a run -- and scooted 52 yards down the sideline. He eluded multiple tacklers and barely stayed in bounds for the touchdown, putting Tampa Bay ahead 31-21.
With his leaping, 2-yard, game-winning touchdown run with 46 seconds remaining, Dunn finished with 22 carries for 145 yards, giving him a career-high 1,093 yards.
"Warrick was fantastic," coach Tony Dungy said. "Warrick has made just big play after big play."
SIDELINED: Tampa Bay starting left tackle Pete Pierson was listed as probable with a left calf strain on Sunday, but Monday he was placed on the inactive list. George Hegamin started in his place. Pierson started the first 14 games this season.
OFFENSIVE ERUPTION: King's 151 first-half passing yards surpassed the Bucs' total passing yards in each of the past four games. King guided Tampa Bay on touchdown drives of 82, 69 and 58 yards as the Bucs led 24-14 at halftime. He finished 18-of-38 for 256 yards.
The 24 points was Tampa Bay's second-best first-half total of the season, exceeded only by the 31 it scored against Minnesota in Week 8. The Bucs did not punt in the first half.
The Bucs' five touchdowns give them 42 this season, a team record. In 1984 Tampa Bay scored 40.
OFFENSIVE ERUPTION II: The Rams had touchdown drives of 76, 72, 63, 73 and 80 yards. Marshall Faulk scored the first four times (three runs, one reception), setting an NFL record with his third four-touchdown game of the season. He has 23 touchdowns this season.
OUTDOING HIMSELF: With every sack, Warren Sapp establishes a Bucs single-season record. He got two in the first half Monday, and on the second he flattened Warner, sending the crowd into a frenzy and pushing his total to 151/2.
HE'S (FULL)BACK: Bucs fullback Mike Alstott, who had missed the past three games with a third-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, returned to the lineup.
The Bucs quickly got Alstott into the action, handing the ball to him on their first play from scrimmage, right after Barber's interception, for a gain of 3 yards. He finished with 2 yards on three carries.
SAY GOODBYE: Before the game, the Bucs honored Times columnist Hubert Mizell and Tampa Tribune columnist Tom McEwen, who are retiring after more than 25 years of covering sports in the area.