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Bucs 21, Patriots 16

(Sept. 3, Foxboro Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.)

THE BIG PICTURE: The Bucs, coming off a 3-1 preseason, rolled into New England and rolled over the Patriots on Warrick Dunn's 56 rushing yards and two touchdowns and Mike Alstott's 54 yards. The defense sacked Pats quarterback Drew Bledsoe six times and knocked him down on 13 other occasions. "He's a stud, man," defensive end Tyoka Jackson said. "And the guy got up. He's going to be in the cold tub tomorrow, but the guy got up, kept slinging and almost brought them back." Bledsoe threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Terry Glenn with 3:01 to go to cut the Bucs lead to five points, then the Patriots got the ball back on the Tampa Bay 45 with 1:43 remaining. Five passes moved New England to the Bucs 22 with 14 seconds left. But after spiking the ball to stop the clock, he fired incomplete three times.

KEY PLAY: On second down on that last possession, Bledsoe rolled to the right, then threw back to his left to Chris Calloway, who appeared to be open. But cornerback Brian Kelly batted away the pass. "We knew they had a throwback in their offense," Kelly said. "(Bledsoe) rolled long and Calloway really didn't sell it good. He just ran in and ran back out. I just stayed with him and knocked it down."

WORTH REMEMBERING: The Bucs caught New England napping to take a 14-10 halftime lead. Shaun King drove the Bucs 50 yards in four plays, most of it coming on a 33-yard catch and run by Jacquez Green. With the clock winding down inside 40 seconds and the Bucs out of timeouts, King frantically lined up his offense and appeared ready to spike the ball and kill the clock. But as the rest of the Bucs stood relaxed, Reidel Anthony ran a fade route past Patriots cornerback Kato Serwanga and King hit him perfectly for an 8-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left.

WORTH FORGETTING: Special teams, which handed the Patriots 17 points. Karl Williams fumbled the opening kickoff, the Patriots recovered at the Tampa Bay 28 and Adam Vinatieri kicked a 30-yard field goal. Their first touchdown came on Troy Brown's 66-yard punt return with 7:25 remaining in the first half.

KEY STATISTICS: King completed 12 of 24 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown and scrambled for 21 yards _ and did not turn the ball over.


Bucs 41, Bears 0

(Sept. 10, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa)

THE BIG PICTURE: Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn combined for 124 yards rushing, but it was the defense that pretty much decided the game by halftime. It forced four turnovers in the first half and the Bucs converted three into scores, including a 24-yard fumble return for a touchdown by cornerback Ronde Barber. King drove the Bucs 90 yards on their first possession of the second half and his 13-yard strike to Keyshawn Johnson in the back of the end zone gave Tampa Bay a 27-0 lead. With his next throw King hit Jacquez Green on a crossing route for a 58-yard touchdown. "You could see with a lead like that and how our defense was playing, you can roll the dice a little bit," offensive coordinator Les Steckel said. "And you want to open it up, you want to utilize the skills of your players."

KEY PLAY: Paul Edinger's 42-yard field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter caught a gust of wind and sailed wide right. Not that it had an impact on the outcome, but the Bucs were hoping for a shutout and this preserved it, extending to 14 quarters their blanking of the Bears.

WORTH REMEMBERING: Cornerbacks Barber and Donnie Abraham. Barber had 2{ sacks of Cade McNown, forced a fumble and returned a fumble for a touchdown. Abraham intercepted McNown twice and forced the fumble that produced Barber's touchdown.

WORTH FORGETTING: The Bucs were unable to finish off drives. They had first and goal at the 8-yard line and had to settle for the first of two field goals by Martin Gramatica.

KEY STATISTICS: Many numbers a long time coming. The 41 points were third-most in team history, the 41-point victory spread the Bucs' largest ever, the shutout was the first at home in five years and extended to 14 the Bears' string of quarters against Tampa Bay without a touchdown.


Bucs 31, Lions 10

(Sept. 17, Silverdome, Pontiac, Mich.)

THE BIG PICTURE: Shaun King passed for 211 yards, ran for a touchdown and passed for another _ to guard Randall McDaniel, no less. For the third straight game, King did not commit a turnover. For the third straight game the defense was overpowering, sacking Charlie Batch seven times and intercepting him twice to beat him for the first time in four starts against Tampa Bay. King was 6-for-8 passing on third down and kept the Bucs perfect for the season in the red zone, leading them to scores on all five trips inside the Lions 20. "I can't say enough great things about him and I just said it afterward to him personally in the locker room here," offensive coordinator Les Steckel said. "The thing I love about Shaun is he has bought into the program and he is thoroughly convinced if he throws no interceptions, we'll win every game."

KEY PLAY: With about 10 minutes remaining, the Bucs led 24-10 when safety John Lynch intercepted Batch and returned the ball to the Lions' 38-yard line. The Bucs ran 5{ minutes off the clock on an eight-play drive that ended with Warrick Dunn's game-sealing 1-yard touchdown run.

WORTH REMEMBERING: Attention, tackle-eligible linemen. Remember to report _ emphatically _ to the referee. McDaniel said he did; referee Gerry Austin said he didn't. Guess whose opinion counted. It wiped out a touchdown pass to tight end Dave Moore; the Bucs had to settle for a field goal.

WORTH FORGETTING: The Bucs led 21-3 in the second quarter when Martin Gramatica missed a 38-yard field-goal attempt. The Lions took over and got to midfield with seven seconds remaining, then used their last timeout of the half. Batch then launched a pass toward the front corner of the end zone. Safety Damien Robinson camped under it, and the Lions' Germane Crowell jumped over him and grabbed it for a 50-yard touchdown, cutting Tampa Bay's halftime lead to 11.

KEY STATISTIC: Ninety-three points in three games, the most by the Bucs in such a stretch, and the third time in their history they've been 3-0.


Jets 21, Bucs 17

(Sept. 25, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa)

THE BIG PICTURE: In a showdown between Keyshawn Johnson's former and current teams, the Jets silenced him (1 yard on one catch, a shovel pass from Shaun King) and rallied from 11 points down, the winning play with 52 seconds remaining on running back Curtis Martin's 18-yard touchdown pass to Wayne Chrebet. After playing error-free football during the Bucs' 3-0 start, King suffered through one of the worst performances of his career _ 7-for-19 passing (including a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight

end Dave Moore) _ with two interceptions, a lost fumble and several bad throws to wide-open receivers. The Bucs should've figured something was up before Martin took a pitch from Vinny Testaverde and threw the decisive pass. Just before the snap, Martin struggled to remove his right glove, then tossed it to the turf. "We just got fooled on it," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "We didn't play it like we should have. It was a good call. It seemed like the ball hung up there forever. I mean, it could've been picked. You know, it was a great call. But it could've backfired and they could've walked out of here without trying the field goal."

KEY PLAY: After the Jets pulled within 17-14 on Testaverde's 6-yard pass to Martin and two-point conversion pass to rookie Laveranues Coles with 1:54 to play, all the Bucs had to do was run three plays, force New York to use its timeouts and, if they didn't get a first down, punt and let their defense to the rest. Instead, Mike Alstott fumbled at the Tampa Bay 24 and safety Victor Green recovered for the Jets.

WORTH REMEMBERING: The Bucs intercepted Testaverde three times, one of them inside their 10-yard line just before halftime to kill a Jets threat, another by Ronde Barber, who returned it 37 yards for the touchdown that put Tampa Bay up 17-6 late in the third quarter.

WORTH FORGETTING: The offense disappeared. A total of 235 yards for the game, 55 in the second half and, in the fourth quarter, just 13 yards with no first downs, and fumbles by Alstott and King on their final two possessions.

KEY STATISTIC: Let a runner roll up 90 or more yards against Tony Dungy's Bucs and they're almost a sure bet to lose. Martin's 90 yards was the 18th time it had been done since Dungy arrived; the Bucs lost 17 of them.


Redskins 20, Bucs 17 OT

(Oct. 1, FedEx Field, Landover, Md.)

THE BIG PICTURE: After the Bucs rallied from 10 points down in the final two minutes to tie the score, Deion Sanders returned a Tampa Bay punt 57 yards to set up former Buc Michael Husted's game-winning 20-yard field goal 4:09 into overtime. Down 17-7, Shaun King threw a 46-yard touchdown to Reidel Anthony with 2:00 on the clock. After the Bucs failed to recover an onside kick, the Redskins reached the Tampa Bay 17, but Warren Sapp blocked Husted's field-goal attempt, the Bucs took over with no timeouts and 43 seconds remaining, and King scrambled 15 yards and passed 12 yards to Warrick Dunn and 19 to Keyshawn Johnson, setting up a game-tying 42-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica on the final play of regulation. "We fought hard and felt good when we gave ourselves a shot to win there at the end," safety John Lynch said. "But the whole time you had the feeling we were being outplayed."

KEY PLAY: Tampa Bay lost the overtime coin toss, and forced a Redskins punt. It was a short one but Jacquez Green, who replaced injured Karl Williams, let it skip past him. He chased it down inside the 10-yard line and returned it to the 14. The Bucs, unable to get a first down, punted to Sanders.

WORTH REMEMBERING: Trailing by 10 with 3:36 left, King drove the Bucs from their 31 to Washington's 46 where two incomplete passes set up third and 10. After being stripped of the football by defensive end Bruce Smith, King scooped it up, rolled to his left and threw the 46-yard touchdown to Reidel Anthony that left the Bucs trailing by a field goal at the two-minute warning.

WORTH FORGETTING: Defensive end John McLaughlin and safety Dexter Jackson said they were blocked in the back on Sanders' 57-yard punt return, but no penalty flags were thrown.

KEY STATISTICS: The Bucs rushed for 72 yards. Stephen Davis had almost double that _ 141 yards on 28 carries, including a 50-yard touchdown run.


Vikings 30, Bucs 23

(Oct. 9, Metrodome, Minneapolis)

THE BIG PICTURE: In a showdown between the unbeaten Vikings and the NFC Central's defending champions, Minnesota improved to 6-0 and dropped the Bucs to 3-3. More accurately, the Bucs dropped themselves by dropping the ball. Keyshawn Johnson fumbled on the Bucs' first play, Minnnesota recovered and quarterback Daunte Culpepper ran 27 yards for a touchdown on the Vikings' first play. Shaun King's 10-yard quarterback draw tied it 7-7 and after the Vikings went up 10-7, Tampa Bay's Aaron Stecker dropped the kickoff. On third down, Culpepper fired a 26-yard scoring strike to tight end John Davis. Still, Tampa Bay led 23-20 with 12:13 remaining after Warren Sapp blocked a 51-yard field-goal attempt by Gary Anderson and cornerback Donnie Abraham returned it 66 yards for a touchdown. Culpepper rallied the Vikings with a 42-yard scoring bomb to Randy Moss. Anderson's 19-yard field goal with a minute to play sealed the victory. "We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole early," coach Tony Dungy said. "We fought and fought to get out of it, but we never were able to get out all the way. . . . We made too many mistakes. To beat this team, we had to play a perfect game and we didn't."

KEY PLAY: The game plan was simple: Do whatever it takes to stop Moss from killing them with big plays. It required Tampa Bay to keep both safeties, John Lynch and Damien Robinson, back in coverage. It was a calculated risk and it pretty much worked until Culpepper uncorked two completions _ to Moss and Matthew Hatchette _ and the 42-yard pass to Moss that turned the game around. Donnie Abraham and Lynch were in position to break up the pass, but as Moss has done so many times, he outjumped the defense and made the catch despite the double coverage.

WORTH REMEMBERING: Jacquez Green, who entered gaining 25.8 yards per catch, set a career high with 11 receptions for 131 yards in an effort that almost single-handedly kept the Bucs in the game.

WORTH FORGETTING: After falling behind 27-23, the Bucs got to midfield and faced fourth and 1. Rookie Todd Yoder was all alone at the 30 when Mike Alstott faked the run and threw a long but apparently catchable ball. Yoder turned all the way around, tripped over his feet and fell down and the pass was incomplete.

KEY STATISTIC: Johnson's fumble was his second in the past two games. He said he'd never lost one in his career before coming to Tampa Bay.



(Oct. 19, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa)

THE BIG PICTURE: Shaun King, who'd had one of the worst games of his career against the Jets, surpassed that in Thursday night prime time against Detroit. He was 17-of-34 for 149 yards with no touchdowns and threw three second-half interceptions. The second one, midway through the fourth quarter with the score tied, was a killer. It allowed the Lions to take control and set up James Stewart's winning touchdown with 4:28 to play. It was the second of Stewart's three short scoring bursts. After the Lions took the 21-14 lead, the Bucs faced fourth and 2 at their 38 with 3:18 to play. But with only one timeout, Dungy opted to go for the first down, King fired incomplete to Jacquez Green, the Lions took over and in four plays they scored again. "I don't know if we're demoralized, but we're definitely disappointed," coach Tony Dungy said. "We've dug ourselves a big, big hole, and the only way we get out of it is to pull ourselves out. Losing two home games is very, very tough. It's hard to fathom that. But we've got to come out of it."

KEY PLAY: The Bucs, tied 14-14, faced third and 1 at their 40-yard line. King rolled left and tried to hit Keyshawn Johnson downfield, but his throw was intercepted by linebacker Chris Claiborne. Eight plays and 54 yards later the Lions went ahead to stay.

WORTH REMEMBERING: The Bucs sacked quarterback Charlie Batch seven times, just as they had on Sept. 17. Defensive end Marcus Jones led the charge with a club-record four sacks and Warren Sapp had two. Jones also blocked a field-goal attempt, the third in three games for Tampa Bay.

WORTH FORGETTING: Two Bucs drives in the red zone failed to produce a touchdown. A blocked Lions punt resulted in a safety instead of a touchdown. And fullback Mike Alstott turned the tide of the game by losing his second fumble of the year. One minute the Bucs had an 8-0 lead. The next they were tied at halftime 11-11.

KEY STATISTIC: After averaging 8 yards a carry in the first quarter, the Bucs attempted four running plays in the second half in extending their streak to seven quarters without an offensive touchdown.


Bucs 41, Vikings 13

(Oct. 30, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa)

THE BIG PICTURE: Shaun King took apart the Vikings defense, passing for 267 yards and a career-high four touchdowns to knock off previously unbeaten Minnesota and end Tampa Bay's four-game slide. It was the best offensive showing in two seasons for the Bucs, who racked up 413 yards. Tampa Bay's offense, which had not scored a touchdown in seven quarters, reached the end zone on its first three possessions. In fact, because the Bucs scored so quickly, the defense's tongues were dragging after participating in 49 first-half plays. Leading 31-13 when they opened the second half, the Bucs essentially put the game away with an 8{-minute drive that resulted in a 47-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica. That was longer than Tampa Bay held the ball the entire first half. "Well, we're not exactly where we want to be but we're not out of it," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "That's the one thing we had to do was come out here and get us a win. This ballclub has been known to finish strong. We had to get us a win right here to end October and championships are won in November and December. So we're going to see where we go from here."

KEY PLAY: The Vikings and Bucs essentially traded scores through most of the first half, then Derrick Brooks broke the string. Three plays and 1-minute, 48 seconds after King passed 20 yards to tight end Dave Moore for a touchdown, linebacker Derrick Brooks intercepted Daunte Culpepper and returned the ball 34 yards for his first NFL touchdown, giving the Bucs a 28-10 lead.

WORTH REMEMBERING: King played catch with receiver Keyshawn Johnson (six for 121 yards, and one touchdown).

WORTH FORGETTING: Instant replay. Sapp seemed to sack Culpepper, force a fumble, recover it and run it to the Vikings' 8-yard line. But when referee Phil Luckett reviewed the play, he decided that Culpepper's right arm, which Sapp hit from behind, was just beginning to move forward. It was ruled an incomplete pass, the Vikings kept the ball and drove to their only touchdown.

KEY STATISTIC: The Bucs never punted.

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