Sapp: This team better than past

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp celebrates a play against the San Francisco 49ers' in the second quarter of the NFC Divisional playoff Sunday, Jan. 12, 2003, in Tampa, Fla. As well as they're playing and as confident as the Bucs are, they will have to buck some serious trends to reach the Super Bowl: 0-2 vs. the Eagles in the playoffs the past two years, 0-6 on the road in franchise postseason history, and 1-21 when the temperature is 40 or below.

AP Photo/J. Pat Carter
Published: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 2:12 a.m.



  • WHO: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-4).
  • WHEN: Sunday, 3 p.m.
  • THE LINE: Eagles by 3.

  • TAMPA - Warren Sapp will never forget walking off the field after losing to Philadelphia in the playoffs the past two years. He can't imagine experiencing that pain again.
    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' loquacious defensive tackle struggled to find the words to explain the emptiness. He is convinced Sunday's NFC championship game against the Eagles will have a happier ending.
    "Why? The only thing I can say that will make any sense to anybody is: this team," Sapp said. "You can take each guy and show how it's a little bit better."
    He talked about how new coach Jon Gruden had motivated players who became complacent under Tony Dungy, the changes Gruden made in an improved offense and the consistency of the NFL's top defense.
    Then Sapp detailed how losing four straight times to the Eagles has strengthened Tampa Bay's resolve to get to the Super Bowl.
    "The thing about it is, other teams have found a way to beat the Eagles. The Colts manhandled them. The Giants manhandled them nine out of 10 times they played, and Jacksonville handled them right before we went and played them" in October, Sapp said.
    "It's not like '99, when we played the Rams in the NFC championship game and nobody had really handled them, so there was no way the Bucs could do it with that rinky dink offense and bend-but-don't-break defense. That's not what we're talking about now. We're talking about a team that's just badder than us, a bully that just beats us up and scares us at the very sight of them."
    Sapp was being sarcastic, although there is some truth to that description of the Eagles.
    Philadelphia has dominated the Bucs physically in their four meetings since 2000, and the four-time All-Pro defensive lineman is sensitive to criticism that he and the rest of Tampa Bay's smallish, speedy defense can't match up against smash-mouth opponents like the Eagles.
    "It is what it is. And until we whip them, that will be the reality. Because if you write it long enough, people will believe it," Sapp said. "It's been written enough. It's been written four times in a row - the last four times we've seen this team."
    The Eagles outscored the Bucs 52-12 in the playoffs the past two years, and Tampa Bay has failed to score an offensive touchdown in their last three games at the Vet. Philadelphia also won the teams' regular season meeting 20-10 on Oct. 20.

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