Saturday, December 01, 2001

Buccaneers rise along with mercury


Bengals' foe seeks another fast finish

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[img]
Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp
(AP photo)
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        Tony Dungy, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5 with a bullet; they're coming off a 24-17 victory at St. Louis on Monday Night), was delighted to hear that the game-time temperature will be above 40 degrees Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

        “Indian summer,” he said.

        The Bucs are 0-20 when the temperature is below 40 degrees. No doubt Dungy is hoping the mercury rises above 50 degrees by the 1p.m. game time. When the temperature is in the 40s, the Bucs are only 6-14.

        Tampa Bay is a warm-weather place, and Dungy thinks that has something to do with his team's recent track record of being able to pick up the pace after notoriously slow starts.

        This year they started 2-3 and are 3-2 since. Four of their five losses have come by a total of only 11 points; the other loss was by only 7. Their defense is ferocious. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp served notice against the Rams that he's headed this way: two sacks, one forced fumble, a fumble recovery and many hard hits on quarterback Kurt Warner.

        Tampa Bay's offense is better than the Bengals', but that isn't saying much. The Bucs' best offensive player is the fabulous Keyshawn Johnson, but even he hasn't been able to get the ball into the end zone (no touchdowns). He does have 76 catches already.

        “We've misfired a few times (and Johnson) has been tackled inside the 5 (-yard line) several times,” Dungy said. “But he's put us in good position ... Hopefully, we can get him in there (the end zone) this week.”

        Johnson, who normally doesn't lack for boldness, was playing it reserved during a teleconference call. No predictions he'd break the TD barrier Sunday; no criticisms of anybody for why he hasn't.

        “I do more than catch passes,” he said. “I contribute in other ways. I block ... I run routes (hard) even when I know I'm not going to get the ball.”

        How is it the Bucs are a fast-finishing team, even though the weather gets progressively colder in the northern climes as the NFL season wears on? The answer, apparently, is winning at home, and winning most of the time on the road when it's warm enough.

        “The nice weather (in Tampa) allows us to stay outside all year,” Dungy said. “We keep the tempo of our practices up (and) I think we've got a group of guys who understand November and December football.”

       



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