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NFL - One on One With the Champs

By Andrew Kulp
Sunday, November 4th, 2001

Some of the NFL's biggest rivals have already had their first hands-on experiences with each other this season.

The Colts and the Patriots have already played twice this season. In their two wins over Indianapolis, New England scored nearly 100 points on their way to huge victories that have made some people begin to believe.

The Eagles finally ended their hideous losing streak against the Giants with some midnight madness on Monday Night Football. The Giants shot themselves in the foot their overly conservative play calling, but Philly's defense, which spent an alarming 25 minutes on the field in the first half, held New York to just 9 points.

And at the Transworld Dome, the Saints continued their dominance over the Rams, handing the arrogant team their first loss of the season and Kurt Warner his first ever loss at home. New Orleans took two of three from the St. Louis last year, including one that knocked the Super Bowl favorites out of the playoffs.

Perhaps this year's most interesting rivalries are the ones that have not been played on the field. These are the heavyweight matchups that everybody ignores. Every year, both sides take shots at one another, and at the end of the season, there is still no winner.

Buccaneers vs. the Media
Before the start of every season, Tampa is the team to beat in the NFC Central. Every year, the Bucs slowly gain momentum and pound their way into the playoffs. Every January, Warren Sapp and his mouth pack their bags and go home with the memory of another wasted opportunity. Whether it is a first round loss to the Eagles, or a 6-5 loss to the Rams in the NFC Championship, the Super Bowl is always just a few plays away from the Bucs.

Lee Flowers called them paper champions. The Bucs have everything they need to win a championship, and year after year, they talk about going to the Super Bowl, and by doing so, they get everybody else talking about Tampa Bay winning it all. Every NFL analyst and their pets have these guys in the big game.

Not this year; certainly not anymore. The media has been all over the Bucs the past few weeks, and its not the sort of coverage that the players enjoy. Flowers got the ball rolling with his comments, but reporters everywhere are saying the Bucs have run out of chances.

Surprisingly, Tampa Bay has been quiet on the subject and have mostly countered with their play on the field.

"I think we all just took the criticism and said it's us against the world. I think we like it that way," said Sapp after the Bucs 41-14 win over the Vikings. "When nobody believes in the Bucs - 'Same old Bucs, same old this, same old that, they're going to find a way to lose' - we like that because we know we have the know-how and the personnel to get it done."

The Buccaneers vs. Buc Ball
Buc Ball is ugly, smashmouth football. It involves hard hitting defense that will knock the yellow off another player's teeth and a conservative offense that works much the same way the Tampa Bay Lightning would kill a power play.

While the Bucs have tried to move away from this type of play, first by signing WR Keyshawn Johnson and then QB Brad Johnson, they really have not shown the necessary commitment to break out of this nightmare they call ball control.

Buc Ball has its qualities. This type of play kept QB Trent Dilfer from throwing stupid interceptions when he ran the show. It was also very successful against the Rams in the NFC Championship a few years ago, where the record setting offense scored a mere 6 points against them. It allowed them to run down the clock, tire out the defense, and keep the opponent's offense off the field.

However, Tampa Bay is much better that silly offensive scheme they run. Brad Johnson can throw the deep ball, and Keyshawn Johnson and Jacquez Green can catch the ball as well as many of the league's top receivers. With all the money flying around, one would find it logical to try and build the offense on these stars.

In last week's victory over the Minnesota Vikings, people may have been too quick to praise the Bucs. Alstott ran for 129 yards and had 3 TD's, however, the Vikings defense is known for as one of the weaker units in the league. Running the ball that way against the Ravens, the Raiders, or even the division rival Packers, would simply not be effective.

Buccaneers vs. Themselves
Let's face it. This isn't simply the way the team plays or the players on it. The problem is far deeper than that. Whether it's a lack of discipline or just a lack of concentration, it's a problem. While there were plenty of guys on the team that were fast to celebrate after the win over the Vikings, the Alstott probably made the most important comment.

"There's really nothing special to talk about. All 53 guys came in here and took it personal, like we always should. This was a must-win, and we stepped up to the plate."

The proverbial monkey is far from off the back, and it's still early to tell if the Bucs have picked up any momentum from this win, but it's obvious that, no matter what the outcome of the Bucs season, this is one rivalry that will be finished.

Are the Bucs champions or are they paper champions?

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