- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

SAN DIEGO.
Nothing the Oakland Raiders saw over in the Other Conference this season prepared them for the fury of the Tampa Bay Bucs' defense. Teams in the AFC playoffs, you may have noticed, were giving up 30 points left and right and sometimes living to tell about it.
That was the Big Deception coming into the Super Bowl, that the Raiders offense was somehow unstoppable because it had hung 30 on the Jets and 41 on Tennessee. But Rich Gannon and his merry men had never had to deal with a defense as devastating as the Bucs' or the Philadelphia Eagles', for that matter. They had never faced a 'D' so good it could make the greatest receiver of all time, Jerry Rice, simply disappear (until late in the third quarter, anyway).
And here's what happened when they did face such a defense: Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21.
Not that it was that close.
"They couldn't stand the pressure," Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice crowed. "When you can't stand the pressure, you've got to get out of the kitchen. They weren't prepared for what this defense brings."
To which coach Jon Gruden added: "If you're going to throw the ball against our defense good luck."
Frankly, I thought the Raiders would be a little more competitive. But the Bucs refused to concede even the smallest patch of turf yesterday until the outcome was no longer in doubt, that is. Their pass rush pestered Gannon practically every time he dropped back, and their linebackers and defensive backs gave him no gimmies, none of the easy dumpoffs his other opponents had permitted him. An 11-yard completion to wide receiver Jerry Porter near the end of the first half was practically a cause for celebration for Oakland.
Indeed, as the game wore on and the Bucs built a 34-3 cushion, the 37-year-old Gannon looked more and more like Fran Tarkenton in his Super Bowls with the Vikings his arm not quite strong enough, his feet not quite quick enough. On the first of his record-setting five interceptions, he couldn't run away from defensive end Greg Spires and forced a pass to his tight end that free safety Dexter Jackson, the eventual Super Bowl MVP, picked off. On most of Gannon's other four INTs, three of which were returned for touchdowns, the ball … took … forever … to … get … there.
Did Jon Gruden's knowledge of his former team's personnel help Tampa Bay? Probably. When Brad Johnson zipped that 5-yard TD pass to Keenan McCardell before Charles Woodson had turned around, you thought: Chucky must have known Woodson would be vulnerable to such a route.
Did the Raiders miss Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins, who went AWOL late in the week and didn't suit up for the Super Bowl? No doubt. Tampa Bay got good push up the middle all game against his replacement, Adam Treu.
But neither of those was as big a factor as the Bucs' killer D. It shut down San Francisco, shut down Philly and treated Oakland just as roughly. We tend to forget, in these high-scoring times, how dominant a great defense can be even against the No.#1 ranked offense in the league. And Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Ronde Barber have been doing it for years now, since '97, really. That's a heck of a run in any era, and a remarkable one in the era of free agency.
What the Bucs lacked for too long was a serviceable quarterback, somebody a cut above Trent Dilfer (and a couple of cuts above Shaun King). They finally found him last season in Brad Johnson, the QB Dan Snyder so recklessly discarded. Then Gruden arrived this year with his bag of offensive tricks, and Tampa Bay was no longer a one-dimensional team. The Bucs averaged nearly 31 points in their three playoff games many more, as it turned out, than they needed.
Johnson is no Joe Montana, but he isn't going to keep a club from winning the Super Bowl. He showed that, pretty conclusively, throughout the postseason; his good plays outnumbered the bad ones by a large margin. Yesterday he put up better numbers than Gannon the NFL MVP despite several dropped balls.
How sweet is that for a QB who got booted out the door in Washington and overlooked in this year's Pro Bowl balloting?
"Jon's taken me to another level," Johnson said. "When he came in, he told me he wanted me to be excited about playing football, and I am. I'm ready to play right through February and March and get ready for minicamp."
For so many years Tampa Bay was a bumbling franchise, monologue fodder for the late-night jokesters. But the Bucs washed all that away yesterday with 60 minutes of inspired play. Their vaunted defense produced more points (21) than it gave up (15), and their offense outgained the league's top unit by nearly 100 yards (365-269).
"We worked so hard to become a perennial playoff team," Lynch said. "In 1999 we came awful close [to winning it all]. A lot of teams could have gone the other way, but we kept getting stronger."
And now the Bucs, who've had to content themselves with being the best defense over the past six years, are simply the best club period.


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