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Dunn outduels Faulk in a battle of backs

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000


TAMPA -- Move over Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan.

The next anything you can do, I can do better Gatorade commercial will feature Bucs running back Warrick Dunn and Rams running back Marshall Faulk, and all the highlights will come from Monday night's game.

The players, both wearing No. 28, combined for 330 yards of total offense in the Bucs' wild 38-35 victory over St. Louis. Dunn and Faulk were rushing and receiving demons, but the biggest play by either back was neither a catch nor a carry.

It was a pitch.

With the Bucs trailing 35-31 and desperately trying to score, Dunn caught a pass and was corralled by a Rams defender. The player was spinning him around when he heard one voice out of all the 66,000 screaming fans.

"I had no idea what I was doing," Dunn said. "I just heard Shaun (King) screaming. He was screaming "pitch it.' I didn't even hesitate."

King took the pitch and scrambled 15 yards to keep the Bucs' last-gasp drive alive. Dunn capped it with a 2-yard run to provide the winning margin.

"I was just trying to make plays," Dunn said.

Faulk, the leading candidate for the league's most valuable player, was a one-man showcase with four touchdowns. But Dunn did his part to help the Bucs keep pace with another dynamic game. He's had 691 yards of offense in the last four games.

"He's been getting better and better each week," Bucs running back coach Tony Nathan said. "We were saying earlier in the week: "Warrick wears 28, Faulk wears 28. Which one is going to get off?' "

They both did.

It started early when Faulk scored on a 2-yard run with 6:25 remaining in the first quarter. Dunn countered with a 2-yard touchdown scamper just before the end of the first quarter.

Faulk scored again on a 16-yard run in the second quarter, but two Keyshawn Johnson touchdowns helped the Bucs take a 24-14 halftime lead. Faulk had the lead in touchdowns with two, but statistically, it was a different story. Dunn had the edge with 73 yards rushing and receiving, while Faulk had 52 yards rushing and receiving.

In the third quarter, Faulk set out to get his team back in the game. He added a third touchdown on a 27-yard reception, but Dunn came right back with a 52-yard run on a lateral from King. After three, Faulk had 117 yards rushing and receiving while Dunn had 157.

Faulk came up with his fourth touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Dunn almost countered again with a 21-yard run to the 1. Only an errant throw by King that was intercepted by Dexter McCleon took away Dunn's chance to help the Bucs.

The Rams scored to go up 35-31 and the Bucs got one last shot with just a little more than two minutes in the game. With the Bucs throwing from the shotgun formation, Dunn wasn't likely to run the ball, but that was when he came up with a play that showcased his head more than his heart: the pitch back to King.

When Dunn hurdled into the end zone with 48 seconds, the Raymond James crowd erupted.

There was, however, still enough time for Faulk to come up with something, and every Bucs fans inhaled when Faulk lined up for the kickoff. The Bucs dropped him at the 20. When John Lynch came up with an interception to snuff out the Rams' hopes, the Faulk-Dunn duel was done. Dunn had 198 yards total offense (145 rushing, 53 receiving) and three touchdowns. Faulk had 132 (79 rushing, 53 receiving), four touchdowns and a whale of disappointment.

Still, it was a dynamic display by two Louisiana lightning bolts. Faulk grew up in New Orleans and went west to San Diego State. Dunn grew up in Baton Rouge and went east to Florida State.

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