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Secondary struggles, but ends up big

Rams QB Kurt Warner has some big plays, but Bucs have the last word.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000

TAMPA -- This was not, by any means, classified information.

Everyone knew the Rams offense featured not only the reigning league MVP in quarterback Kurt Warner, but a crop of receivers who have world-class speed ... in the mud.

So the Bucs secondary knew going into Monday night's significant game against St. Louis that it had to make a few plays and eliminate the Rams' big ones.

It did a little bit of both.

"The thing was that we knew that they were going to make some plays but we had to stay in there and try to make it count," secondary coach Herman Edwards said. "Tonight, our offense helped us out a lot.

"My guys are experienced enough to know that one set of plays doesn't make or break your season."

In the end safety John Lynch, beaten moments before for the go-ahead score, had one of the Bucs' three interceptions to seal the 38-35 win.

"I needed to make a play," Lynch said. "I had a couple of opportunities to get it done. ... It's just sweet. They got to us last year and we got a little redemption."

Under pressure from the first snap, the Bucs turned Ronde Barber's interception into a 35-yard Martin Gramatica field goal in the first quarter. But, that wasn't necessarily the good omen for which the Bucs were looking.

There were moments when Warner, who has had his struggles on the road this season, sliced through the secondary to show glimpses of last season's form.

By the end, Warner was 20-for-32 for 316 yards and two touchdowns and completed passes to six different receivers.

More important, a number of receptions were long, something the Bucs preached they would do everything to prevent.

In the first half, the Bucs allowed completions of 17, 22, 17, 29 yards. They came at crucial times.

In the Rams' third and fourth offensive series, the Bucs allowed a 17-yard pass on second and 8, a 22-yarder on second and 15, another 17-yarder on second and 10 and a 29-yarder on third and 8.

"We have a bend-but-don't-break approach to defense; that's what it was like tonight," safety Damien Robinson said. "Last year, it came down to four minutes in the game and today it was big, we played the whole game complete."

The second half was not much better. After the Bucs took a 24-14 halftime lead, Robinson's pick again seemed to be a sign of good tidings, but Warner had different ideas.

The Rams made the score 24-21 on a 27-yard touchdown behind the secondary.

The Bucs responded with a 52-yard touchdown by Dunn to make the score 31-21 but again the Rams' big-play ability countered Dunn's effort.

St. Louis had completions of 20 and 21 yards en route to a 7-yard Marshall Faulk touchdown, then struck with Torry Holt's 72-yard touchdown catch and run in which he spun around Lynch and outran the rest of the defense for the score.

"They got into a rhythm and when they get into rhythm they can make a lot of big plays," Edwards said. "On the long play, John fell down and Ronde fell down and he just made a great run."

Lynch had the final moment of the night, picking off Warner's desperation pass with 25 seconds left.

"It was great for John," Edwards said.

Added Lynch: "It was really surreal. I don't know how many third-down and fourth-down completions they had. It was unbelievable."

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