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Sapp's hustle sets tempo for Raiders

He didn't carry the ball. He didn't have a touchdown reception. He didn't intercept a Brad Johnson pass and return it 32 yards for a touchdown.

All those individual moments went to other members of the silver and black.

But with the Star Wars theme resonating across Network Associates Coliseum, defensive tackle Warren Sapp's mere presence was very, ahem, Darth Vaderish.

Only this time, the Evil Empire won.

"It felt like deja vu at times," Sapp said. "When we were out there and things were going real well, I felt like we were playing the right type of defense all the time. It felt like we knew what we were supposed to do. It was a great time."

Sapp, who led his new team out of the tunnel in a much-anticipated rematch with his old team, set the tone for the Raiders in the game's first few minutes.

On first down at the Bucs 46, Johnson connected with running back Charlie Garner in the flat. Garner, who later sustained what appears to be a major knee injury, evaded a wave of tacklers and seemed to be heading for the end zone down the left side.

But Sapp, a 300-pounder, chased Garner stride for stride and made a diving, ankle-grabbing, touchdown-saving tackle that put the ball at the Raiders 23.

"I didn't want to turn around," Sapp said. "I decided to put my head down and try to see how close I could get. When I got close enough, I dove, tripped his feet and luckily I got him on the ground. That was one thing that calmed me down."

The Bucs were unable to punch it in and settled for a 36-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica and a 3-0 lead.

"We only gave up three points," Sapp said. "It was a big play."

Raiders coach Norv Turner agreed.

"I thought Sapp chasing down Garner set a great tempo," Turner said.

Sapp's play gave the Raiders defense confidence and the rest of his team momentum, and Oakland never looked back.

"That's what we do as a team," safety Ray Buchanan said. "We chase to the ball, we all make plays. We hustle until the play is over. It doesn't matter if it's Warren Sapp or anyone else, for that matter."

The stat sheet will show the 10-year veteran, who spent his first nine seasons in Tampa Bay, did not have a sack. But the Raiders defense was clearly the better one on the field .

And Sapp played a big role in that.

"I've always said I've played big in big games and I really have," said Sapp, who had three solo tackles. "If I'm on offense facing that defense, it would be something different because they would know everything about me. But, (Matt) Stinchcomb and Derrick Deese and those guys, I've never played with them and I don't have any love for them. So it was a matter of me calming my emotions of, "That's (Jon) Gruden, that's (Derrick) Brooks, that's (Anthony) McFarland.' Those are my boys. But I have a whole (new) group of guys out here that I love to go out and play with."

And if you measure a player by the impact he has on his teammates, chalk up Sunday's ravaging of the Bucs as an indication that Sapp, who never received an offer from the Bucs, still is a pretty good player.

Sapp and the Raiders kept up the assault through the third quarter, giving the Bucs runners no room to move and the receivers little hope of making a big play. At the end of the third quarter, Tampa Bay had 48 yards rushing and 154 passing, and Johnson had been battered and bruised on countless plays.

The attrition finally led to Johnson throwing a ball directly to Phillip Buchanon, who returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.

Strange: Raiders ball looked eerily similar to Buc ball.

The rest of the Raiders were very much involved in the hammering, but it was hard to ignore Sapp's presence. When Oakland pushed the lead to 30-6 on a 2-yard run by Wheatley at the end of the third, Sapp was part of the blocking scheme as a tight end.

"It was one of those deals when I was the third blocking tight end and we wanted to finish them off," Sapp said. "It was fun. It's always fun to play both sides of the ball."

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