SAN DIEGO (AP) – Just defense, baby!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t need much more – for most of the Super Bowl, anyway.
Coach Jon Gruden and his Bucs won their first NFL championship yesterday, routing the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in the first matchup of best offense vs. best defense.
The Tampa Bay defense won by a mile, returning three of a record five interceptions for touchdowns and shutting down any hope the Raiders had of a late comeback.
It was the first Super Bowl victory for the former NFL laughingstock, a team that lost its first 26 games after it started playing in 1976 in those garish orange uniforms.
“I want to thank Coach Gruden for what he did,” said Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer, who a year ago was the butt of jokes for his revolving coach search that finally brought Gruden from the Raiders.
“He came from heaven and he brought us to heaven. We were waiting for the right man and the right man came – Jon Gruden.”
Gruden, who at 39 became the youngest coach ever to win a Super Bowl, is known as an offensive guru.
This win was with a defense run by Monte Kiffin and other holdovers from former coach Tony Dungy.
Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson had two interceptions, as did Dwight Smith, who returned both of his picks for touchdowns, including a 50-yarder to finish off the scoring with two seconds left in the game. Derrick Brooks also returned an interception for a touchdown.
Simeon Rice had two of the Bucs’ five sacks as Tampa Bay romped to a 20-3 halftime lead then scored two quick third-quarter touchdowns.
That rendered futile a late comeback by the Raiders that included a touchdown on a blocked punt and 48-yard TD pass from league MVP Rich Gannon to Jerry Rice.
“Right now, I wouldn’t care if they put Mount Everest in front of me,” said Simeon Rice, who was playing against a line of all 300 pounders. “I just wanted to be a world champion.”
The Tampa Bay offense did its part, too, led by Michael Pittman, who ran for 124 yards on 29 carries.
Mike Alstott had a 2-yard TD run and Brad Johnson added two TD passes to Keenan McCardell, the second an 11-yarder after an 89-yard drive that ate up almost eight minutes of the third quarter.
Just 43 seconds later, Smith grabbed the ball away from Jerry Rice and took it to the end zone to make it 34-3.
Oakland owner Al Davis’ slogan “Just win, baby!” wasn’t going to work this time.
How good was the Tampa Bay defense?
Oakland had just 62 total yards in the first half, the second-lowest total in Super Bowl history. And the five interceptions of Gannon were the most he had in any game this season.
Credit the win also to Gruden, who left Oakland a year ago for Tampa Bay in what seemed at the time far too much in draft picks and cash – $8 million to be exact.
Although Gruden denied it, his knowledge of his old team worked out perfectly.
“Every play they’ve run, we’ve run in practice,” Tampa Bay safety John Lynch said.
But Gruden said:
“That was all overrated. “I stayed away from the defense. That’s a credit to our players. We’ve got a great defensive club.”
To be fair, the Raiders might have entered this game a bit distracted.
Their All-Pro center, Barret Robbins, was sent home before the game for missing team functions on Saturday. The Bucs took advantage, with Warren Sapp, Lynch and the interior defense pushing up the middle constantly against backup center Adam Treu to put pressure on Gannon and shut down the run.
This was a victory for one of the NFL’s longtime sad sacks.
Between 1983 and 1996, the Bucs were the league’s worst franchise, going without a winning season and losing 10 or more games in 13 of those 14 years.
Even a year ago, they were a mess after the Glazer family fired Dungy and went after big-name coaches like Bill Parcells and Steve Mariucci before landing Gruden.
But if this was a glorious day for the Bucs, it was the opposite for the Raiders, who have three Super Bowl victories but hadn’t been back to pro football’s showcase game in 19 years.
Oakland’s aging warriors did little or worse.
Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, the 40- and 36-year-old wide receivers, were all but invisible for most of the game.
Rice, who has a reception in every game he’s played since 1985, didn’t have his first until 3:30 was left in the third quarter yesterday and the Raiders trailed by 31 points.