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They Came Prepared No defense has ever been more ready for a title game than Tampa Bay's

Feb. 03, 2003
Feb. 03, 2003

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Feb. 3, 2003

They Came Prepared No defense has ever been more ready for a title game than Tampa Bay's

In the early moments of the second quarter, with Tampa Bay holding
a 6--3 lead, Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon had already been
intercepted once but still didn't have the ghost of an idea of
what horrors awaited him. As he took the snap, he looked long and
hard to his left, where wideout Jerry Rice was aligned. He pumped
once.

This is an article from the Feb. 3, 2003 issue Original Layout

"Sluggo seam! Sluggo seam!" Buccaneers linebacker coach Joe Barry
and defensive backfield coach Mike Tomlin yelled in unison from
the sideline. Their warning was unnecessary, because the same
shout was going up in the Tampa Bay secondary. "Sluggo seam!"

"[Sluggo seam is] a slant-and-go to [Raiders wideout] Jerry
Porter after Gannon has faked the slant on the other side,"
Tomlin explained later. "It's generated more big plays for them
than anything else."

"Before the play, I had Porter in the slot," Bucs strong safety
John Lynch added, "but then I saw what was coming, and I yelled
to Dexter Jackson, our free safety, 'Cover me, Dex! It's Sluggo
seam!'"

And after his pump fake to Rice, Gannon did throw to Porter, and
Jackson made his second interception of the day and returned it
25 yards. Gannon would be intercepted three more times in the
second half, with Tampa Bay returning all three for touchdowns.

"We changed our defenses on the go and stayed a jump ahead of
them," said cornerback Ronde Barber. "We'd go from a two-deep
zone to a three-deep before the snap. We'd mix in some
man-to-man, some zone. We'd make double calls, waiting for
Gannon's call [at the line] before we called our second defense.
A few years ago, maybe we couldn't have done that. You have to be
smart--and experienced."

"We do the same things over and over in practice," said Rod
Marinelli, the defensive line coach. "Our coordinator, Monte
Kiffin, always says, 'The issue is us. The opponent is a gray
area.' We had a pass rush today. You rush and cover, break on the
ball, get your pad level right and don't miss tackles. It's
football at its finest. It's the way we are."

As expected there was talk in the Bucs' locker room about how
their defense ranks against the greatest of all time. There have
been better units--the Pittsburgh Steelers of the mid-1970s, for
instance--but this was the best prepared that a team has ever
been for a top-ranked offense with the stakes so high. The Bucs
were in Gannon's head. They knew as much about him and his
tendencies as his teammates did. "This goes back to the spring,"
Kiffin said. "In practice we were going against Jon Gruden's
offense, which was a mirror of the Raiders' offense. So you could
say we were getting ready for this game for almost nine months.
Repetition, repetition, repetition--until you've got it down
perfectly."

An hour after the game Kiffin, who had enjoyed his finest moment
as a coordinator, studied the stat sheet. "The Raiders threw 11
picks in 18 games, then they throw five today," he said. "And we
get five sacks and hold them to 19 yards rushing. Kind of
unbelievable, isn't it?

"It starts with pressure, and we were getting it today," he
added. "It ends with speed, the kind of speed someone can't see
by looking at tapes of us. Our finest game ever? Yeah, I guess
so, this and the NFC Championship against the Rams three years
ago. Except that we lost that one. Now we're the Super Bowl
champs." --Paul Zimmerman

Check out Dr. Z's Inside Football every week at
cnnsi.com/football.

COLOR DIAGRAM: DIAGRAM BY JOE ZEFFCOLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER TURNING TWO Jackson got his second interception (diagram above) when he stepped in front of Kelly and a fallen Porter.

Anatomy of an Interception

1. Raiders running back Charlie Garner picks up blitzing
cornerback Ronde Barber.

2. Wideout Jerry Rice starts down the left sideline, and
quarterback Rich Gannon pump-fakes in his direction as corner
Dwight Smith covers.

3. Strong safety John Lynch floats into the right flat toward
wideout Tim Brown.

4. Corner Brian Kelly drops off Brown and picks up wideout Jerry
Porter running a deep slant.

5. Reading the play, free safety Dexter Jackson doesn't buy
Gannon's pump-fake to Rice, so he angles toward the middle of the
field. Gannon throws over the middle, but Jackson steps in front
of Porter for the interception.