The Detroit Lions were the NFL's best offense a year ago, but they were as harmless as kittens most of the game Sunday.
The boos cascaded on multimillion-dollar quarterback Scott Mitchell, who was sacked three times and held to 131 yards passing.
Except for one blown assignment, the coverage was outstanding on Pro Bowl receiver Herman Moore, who caught eight passes for 84 yards. Even the run defense was adequate against Barry Sanders, who gained 54 of his 125 yards rushing on one carry.
Fourteen of the Lions' 21 points came directly as a result of turnovers.
All this from a Bucs defense that was missing starting linemen Chidi Ahanotu and Warren Sapp.
"They played okay and we felt we had to do that," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "We had to come in and shut them down. Sanders can break one at any time when he gets loose. We really only had one bad play on that draw, and he made us pay for it."
Maligned Bucs defensive end Eric Curry had one of his best games as a pro, forcing Sanders' fumble and recording a sack and four tackles.
He also was in Mitchell's face more than the quarterback's mouthpiece.
"I was having a little fun," Curry said. "It was a little changeup with the turf. If I can be consistent with it, I can rebound and have some more great games.
"We were making things happen up there and hopefully we can continue our pressure to get more sacks. We did. We had (Mitchell) a little frustrated. He really didn't want to get hit like that. They probably didn't think we'd come off in that manner. But we had to go out there and get the job done."
Curry's best play was forcing Sanders' fumble at the Detroit 8. Linebacker Lonnie Marts recovered.
Unfortunately, the Bucs handed the ball right back when quarterback Casey Weldon fumbled his first snap from center Joel Crisman.
"You've got to go back out there and keep getting turnovers so the offense can plug it in," Curry said. "Barry had his down, had his play, but that's Barry. That's Superman for you. You might keep him contained, but you don't keep him down. Most of the time, our defense did an adequate job."
With Moore, Brett Perriman and Johnnie Morton to shadow, the secondary was grateful for the pressure on Mitchell from the young defensive line.
"They were outstanding," said Bucs cornerback Martin Mayhew, who recorded his first sack as a pro. "I thought they played great today.They carried us on defense. They set the tone a lot of ways. I think Curry caused a fumble and pressure on the quarterback every time. That's something that means a lot to me."
Not that there weren't mistakes. A blown coverage allowed Moore's 23-yard TD reception when safety Melvin Johnson failed to rotate on the play while Mayhew was blitzing.
And nobody laid a glove on Sanders during his long TD run.
"We had a blitz on and didn't get the coverage down," Dungy said. "At that point, maybe you're gambling a little bit and trying to make something happen and it backfired on us."
But the Bucs did enough to give the team hope. They also gained another believer.
"Tampa Bay has an excellent defense," Lions coach Wayne Fontes said. "They are a good, young defensive team and they caused us problems."
Tampa Bay is off to a deadly start, letting opponents score far more points in the second quarter than last season while the Bucs produce little offensively.
Year Bucs Opp. avg. avg.
1996 6 28 3 14
1995 77 106 4.8 6.62