- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

SAN DIEGO A season that began with training camp in Orlando, Fla., for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended with the longtime NFL laughingstocks headed back to Disney World as Super Bowl champions.
In the first Super Bowl matching the NFL's top offense and its best defense, Tampa Bay's ferocious red and pewter tacklers left the Silver and Black attack of Oakland black and blue with a resounding 48-21 victory in Super Bowl XXXVII last night at Qualcomm Stadium.
"We showed how great our defense is," said Bucs Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice. "We'll go down as one of the best of all time."
The unit held the powerful Raiders to eight first downs and 191 yards until 9:02 remained and Tampa Bay was in control, 34-15.
"We have a great defense, a dominant world-champion defense," said Bucs coach Jon Gruden. "We rush the passer, we re-route receivers, we disguise our looks."
The 39-year-old Gruden became the youngest coach to win the Super Bowl. He proved to be well worth the exorbitant sum of two first-round draft choices, two second-rounders and $8 million that the Bucs gave to the Raiders to bring him east for an eventual Super Bowl run. Gruden re-energized a Bucs team that fell just short of victory in the 1999 NFC Championship game to being pounded in first-round playoff games in the next two seasons under former coach Tony Dungy.
"He brought us heaven," Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer said of his coach who re-established Oakland as a contender in 2000 and 2001.
"We knew going in that this would be our toughest challenge of the year," said Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, the regular season MVP who threw just 11 interceptions in 689 attempts this season before he was picked off five times in 44 passes last night. "We knew it would come down to how we played against their defense. I made some bad decisions. I didn't get into a rhythm. They kept us off-balance. Their speed is very impressive, but it's the way they play their defense."
Free safety Dexter Jackson, who set the tone with two early interceptions, won MVP honors. Jackson called him himself an unseen spark plug on a luxury Cadillac defense and one could argue that Rice, linebacker Derrick Brooks, who returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown, and nickel corner Dwight Smith, who took back the fifth of Gannon's record five pickoffs, were also worthy choices.
"I told Derrick when we left Florida that I had my Defensive Player of the Year [award from 1999] and he had his [this year], now let's get something that everybody can have," All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "We all get a replica of that Lombardi Trophy."
Defense wins championships hasn't been cliche in the new millennium despite the growth in high-octane offenses. Tampa Bay followed New England last year and Baltimore in 2000 as Super Bowl champions with the better defenses. The Bucs are one of seven teams have allowed fewer than 200 points in a 16-game season and four of them have reached the Super Bowl. It's no coincidence that all four won the title the Bucs, the 2000 Ravens, the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The game was tied 3-3 when Jackson stepped in front of rookie tight end Doug Jolley and intercepted Gannon's pass, giving Tampa Bay the ball at its 49 with nine seconds left in the first quarter.
Given the break, the Bucs took the lead.
Brad Johnson hooked up with wideout Keyshawn Johnson for completions of 11 and 9 yards to give Tampa Bay a first down on the Oakland 27. Martin Gramatica's 43-yarder four plays later made it 6-3. Jackson ended Oakland's next drive with another interception this one of Gannon's pass for Jerry Porter and returned the ball to the Raiders' 45, but the Bucs failed to advance.
The Raiders went nowhere and Karl Williams returned Shane Lechler's punt 25 yards to the Oakland 27. Michael Pittman ran for 6 of his season-high 124 yards and then took a draw 19 yards to make its first-and-goal at the 2. Fullback Mike Alstott scored the game's first touchdown two plays later to extend the Bucs' margin to 13-3 with 6:24 to go in the half.
Having been held to just two first downs, the Raiders finally seemed to be getting somewhere when Gannon found Porter for 11, but on third-and-7, receiver Tim Brown couldn't hold on to a first down catch.
Tampa Bay took over at its 23 and marched 77 yards in 10 plays plus three Oakland penalties to blow the game open. Pittman jump-started the drive with runs of 5 and 9 yards. Alstott followed with a 16-yard catch after a Brad Johnson bootleg and added a 3-yard run after Keyshawn Johnson's 10-yard sliding catch on second-and-11 at the Oakland 30. Alstott rumbled with a screen for 12 and then Brad Johnson connected with fellow ex-Redskin Keenan McCardell for a 5-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left before halftime.
Held to three first downs and 62 yards in the first half, the Raiders went three-and-out on their first series of the second half when Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly broke up Gannon's third-and-2 pass for receiver Marcus Knight. On the Bucs' next possession, they drove 89 yards in 14 plays over 7:52 to extend the lead to 27-3. Brad Johnson, the quarterback whom Redskins owner Dan Snyder couldn't wait to get rid of two years ago, ran for 10 yards on third-and-2 and connected with Keyshawn Johnson for 9 to pick up the next first down.
Then receiver Joe Jurevicius, whose infant son Michael continues to fight for life in an Ohio hospital, got open for an 11-yard catch and two plays later torched cornerback Tory James for 33 to the Oakland 14. Tight end Ken Dilger hurdled a defender and took the ball to the 2. After a penalty pushed Tampa Bay back to the 11, it took Brad Johnson just two plays to hit McCardell for an 8-yard touchdown against safety Anthony Dorsett.
It was 27-3 and the Tampa Bay defense wasn't done.
On Oakland's second play, Smith stepped in front of Jerry Rice, picked off the pass and raced 44 yards to make it a 34-3 rout with 4:47 to go in the third quarter. Porter's 39-yard catch 2:33 later finally got Oakland across the goal line, but even then, Gannon was tackled by Simeon Rice on the 2-point conversion attempt. The Raiders crept closer when Tim Johnson blocked Tom Tupa's punt and Eric Johnson recovered for a touchdown. The 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete and it was 34-15. Rice got wide-open on a 48-yard bomb to narrow the gap to 34-21, but Porter was ruled out of the end zone on the conversion catch with 6:06 to play. The interceptions for touchdowns by Brooks and Smith rounded out the scoring and provided exclamation points for the defense.

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