Advertisement
  1. Archive

BUCS 21, EAGLES 6 // NEW DAY DAWNS BRIGHT

You've heard it before in the aftermath of season openers. But never like this.

Same old Bucs.

Long a phrase of resignation, it has a new connotation.

The Bucs who showed up in Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium for Sunday's regular-season opener indeed were familiar. In embarrassing the Eagles 21-6, Tampa Bay bore striking resemblance to the unit that finished the 1994 season with four wins in its last five games and ripped off a 3-1 record this preseason.

This winning stuff still is new hat to Tampa Bay, but it's starting to fit.

"Let's see, that's one, two, three, four," said Bucs defensive lineman Brad Culpepper, counting his club's 1995 victories. "That's eight out of the last 10 games. It's getting to be business as usual."

Tampa Bay certainly got busy dispelling negatives against Philadelphia, which entered the game favored by a touchdown. While the Eagles looked like the greenest of teams under rookie head coach Ray Rhodes, the Bucs accomplished the following in starting their "New Day" with a victory:

Their first season-opening road win since 1990 _ 38-21 at Detroit.

A three-game road winning streak, dating back to late-season victories last year at Minnesota and Washington. It is Tampa Bay's first such streak since it won three on the road in the midst of its 5-0 start in 1979. The Bucs never have won four straight road games.

And the team's best defensive showing, in terms of points allowed, since a 7-3 season-ending win at Phoenix in 1992. The Eagles' two-field goal performance added validity to a Tampa Bay defense that held three preseason opponents to single digits.

"I'm supposed to have this nice square jaw (and say) that this is another day at work," said Bucs coach Sam Wyche, who won his first Bucs opener since he beat Phoenix in his Tampa Bay debut in 1992. "But we're happier than we could ever get right now. This is a great win.

"We needed one to get off to that fast start. We've been preaching it since January. This one does feel like it's more than one of 16 games. And I'm not really ashamed of that. I think we ought to celebrate and enjoy this thing as much as we can."

Playing opportunistic offense and a classic bend-but-don't-break style on defense, Tampa Bay built its convincing victory around two Trent Dilfer scoring passes, five sacks and two turnovers by seven different players on defense, and a very un-Buc-like 14-0 fourth-quarter advantage.

The star of the show unquestionably was Horace Copeland, the third-year receiver who got the start in place of Tampa Bay's injured free-agent star, Alvin Harper. Inspiring thoughts of "Alvin who?", Copeland continued the pace he set in his excellent preseason, grabbing a team-high five passes for 155 yards and a touchdown.

His score _ a picturesque 64-yard bomb from Dilfer that came replete with end-zone backflip _ provided Tampa Bay all the points it would need, answering a 21-yard Gary Anderson field goal that gave the Eagles a 3-0 lead on Philadelphia's first possession.

"There's no doubt that was a momentum swing," Bucs linebacker Hardy Nickerson said. "That changed the outlook of the game for us. They were riding high, and had kicked a field goal. For us to come right back and respond to that, well, that's what good football teams do."

Protecting a 7-6 lead into the fourth quarter, the Bucs took the drama out of the game with a 10-yard Dilfer-to-Jackie Harris touchdown pass early, and blew it open on a 19-yard touchdown romp by Errict Rhett (85 yards on 26 carries) with 4:01 remaining. That score was set up by another Copeland highlight, a 44-yard completion in which he capped his daylong humiliation of Eagles cornerback Derrick Frazier, making his first NFL start.

"I guessed the wrong route," said Frazier, who early this week had talked brashly about wanting to face Harper. "I thought it was a comeback route. It was a post route. It's that simple."

The Big-Play Bucs? Now there's a label that might take some getting used to.

"That's the difference," Nickerson said. "That's the difference between this team and other (Bucs) teams. There's no more of that excuse syndrome: "We could've, we should've, we had this chance, we had that chance.' This team is different in that it takes advantage of those opportunities."

Defensively, Tampa Bay was led by no one, in the sort of way that implies varied contributions by many. The Bucs' five sacks _ by Nickerson, Culpepper, and defensive linemen Santana Dotson, Mark Wheeler and Warren Sapp _ were the most they've had since their November win in Minnesota last year, and represented 25 percent of their entire 1994 total (a league-low 20). Four of those sacks came in one eight-play stretch of the second quarter.

Throw in a fumble recovery by safety Kenny Gant and a late-game interception by linebacker Lonnie Marts, and the Bucs so frustrated the Eagles that some in the crowd of 66,266 pelted the field with tomatoes.

"They outplayed us, they outperformed us, they outexecuted us," said Eagles running back Ricky Watters, who was held to 37 yards on 17 carries and five receptions for 34 yards in his Philly debut. "The fact of the matter is Tampa Bay came in and they beat us in every phase of the game."

Added Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, who drew boos because his 25-of-36, 191-yard day included an average completion of 4 yards: "Tampa Bay is a good team. They're under as much pressure as we are."

Pressure was something rarely felt Sunday by Dilfer. His 11-of-19, 215-yard performance included just one sack, and one interception, by Frazier on a pass tipped at the line by linebacker William Thomas.

"And Trent Dilfer, (people said he had) a lot of question marks," Wyche said. "Everybody was saying we can't do it because of the youth of our quarterback. We did one anyway, and he was a big part of that win. We didn't do much controlling the ball, but when we had to, we came through."

The touchdown pass to Copeland was the longest completion of Dilfer's brief NFL career, topping a 42-yard hookup against Chicago last year.

"This was a big game," Dilfer said. "I'm not going to downplay it. This was a huge game for me. I was very careful with the football and I wanted to show these guys on my team that I can pull myself out of a hole at times, or I can make a big play.

"I think I'm one step closer in that process of earning that respect completely. Because things weren't going great all game long, but we hung in there, and we went out and we made plays."

And now, at 1-0, it has come to this. With 0-1 Cleveland looming next week, again on the road, Nickerson threw out a word of caution to his Bucs teammates. And it neither elicited nor deserved any punch lines.

"I believe we're a good football team," he said. "But the main thing is we don't want to get too confident, you know. That's probably something that's never been heard around here before, but we can't get too confident. We've got to prepare just like we did this week."

Same old Bucs?

Quality time

Tampa Bay proved again that it's not time of possession, but what you do when you have the ball that counts:

Bucs Quarter Eagles

3:11 1st 11:49

7:46 2nd 7:14

3:50 3rd 11:10

10:42 4th 4:18

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement