<
>

Tampa Bay claims franchise-best 12th victory

12/30/2002

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers get a mighty
nice reward for finally winning a game in cold weather: A
first-round bye, and a week to recuperate in the Florida sun.

With their playoff fate in their hands and the gametime
temperature at a chilly 34 degrees Sunday night, Tampa Bay's
defense hounded the short-handedChicago Bears incessantly, setting
up all but one of Martin Gramatica's five field goals on the way to
a 15-0 victory.

The Bucs secured the No. 2 seed in the NFC with their
franchise-best 12th victory, giving them a bye next weekend and a
home game in the second round.

"How about that? That's really something," coach Jon Gruden
said. "A milestone tonight, winning 12 games, first time we've
been able to do that. We made sure the thermometer was accurate and
we accomplished something tonight. Hopefully we can put some of
those streaks to end and maybe start some new cold weather
streaks."

The warm-blooded Bucs had a long record of ineptness in the
cold, losing 21 straight when the temperature was 40 degrees or
below. But they could have passed for penguins Sunday, with the
temperature dipping into the low 30s as the night went on and the
southeast wind making it feel even chillier.

"I'm a 30-year Florida boy. I hate this stuff," tackle Warren
Sapp said. "It'll always be brought up, but at least we got it off
our resume."

The Buccaneers (12-4) had already locked up the NFC South title.
But after losing last Monday night to Pittsburgh, they needed help
from the New York Jets to get the first-round bye.

The Jets did their part with a 42-17 victory over the Green Bay
Packers about two hours before the Bucs and Bears (4-12) kicked
off. The Bucs were well aware of the outcome of that game -- the end
played on the Jumbotron at Memorial Stadium -- and took the field
knowing their fate was in their hands.

"The situation we let get away from us Monday was put right
back into our laps. You can't ask for anything better than that," Sapp said. "We had the table set for us with a nine-course meal.
All we had to do was sit down and eat. We ate."

Feasted is more like it. Tampa Bay's offense was hardly
impressive, with Rob Johnson getting sacked five times -- four times
in the first half -- and mustering only 134 yards.

But the defense more than made up for the offense, abusing Bears
third-string quarterback Henry Burris, who was making his first NFL
start because of injuries to Chris Chandler and Jim Miller.

Tampa Bay intercepted Burris four times, setting up four of
Gramatica's five field goals.

Just how ferocious were the Bucs? Chicago's first five plays in
the fourth quarter were passes, and Tampa Bay picked off three of
them. Burris went just 7-of-19 for 78 yards, ending up with a
dismal 10.3 quarterback rating.

The Bucs lead the NFL with 31 interceptions, and extended their
streak of games with at least one takeaway to 41. It was the second
shutout of the season for the NFL's stingiest defense, which has
allowed just 196 points.

"This loss hurt," Burris said. "When you're shedding your
blood, sweat and tears, to come out with a loss really hurts. This
is something that will burn in my body until I take my next snap."

Johnson was making just his second start of the season, playing
in place of Brad Johnson, who has a severe back contusion. And the
rust certainly showed, with the Bucs offense moving in fits and
starts.

"We were playing for everything and they weren't playing for
anything, so they were loose and doing a lot of crazy stuff out
there," Johnson said. "It was one of those games you knew they
wouldn't score a lot, you just didn't want to turn the ball over."

They finally got something going in the second quarter, marching
48 yards to the Chicago 12. But Johnson, under heavy pressure from
Rosevelt Colvin, threw the ball away into the end zone on
third-and-3.

Gramatica bailed him out, splitting the uprights with a 30-yard
field goal to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead with 6:48 to play in the
first half.

Starting from their own 20, the Bears looked like they might
cause some problems when Burris connected with John Gilmore on a
30-yard heave -- the longest offensive play of the first half for
either team. Adrian Peterson then broke off a 14-yard run, bringing
the Bears to the Bucs 25.

But Derrick Brooks stepped in front of Marty Booker and picked
off the ball. He returned the interception 44 yards to the Chicago
34. Four plays later, Gramatica made a 32-yard field goal to give
the Buccaneers a 6-0 lead, and the Bears never threatened again.

"We're really happy, obviously proud of our team to win a game
in cold weather a game we had to have that had serious
ramifications," Gruden said. "We needed the bye week and we
wanted it."

Game notes
Tampa Bay's 12 wins tops its previous record of 11, set in
1999. ... The Bucs again denied reports that quarterback Brad
Johnson has a fractured vertebrae in his back, saying it's a severe
contusion. "There is a lot of people reporting a lot of things.
And not a lot of these reports are coming from our training staff
and medical people," Gruden said. "Those are false and
inaccurate." Johnson said he plans to practice this week.

Comments