NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: TAMPA BAY 27, PHILADELPHIA 10

Bucs' bound for Super Bowl


Published: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 11:21 p.m.
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Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber sprints toward the end zone on a 92-yard interception return for touchdown in the fourth quarter that sealed the Bucs' victory Sunday against Philadelphia.

The Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can forget about the cold.
They're going to San Diego for the Super Bowl.
After being stunned by a Philadelphia touchdown in the first minute of the NFC Championship game Sunday, the Bucs' league-leading defense shut down Donovan McNabb and company to beat the Eagles 27-10.
Tampa Bay advanced to its first NFL title game by overcoming all sorts of history - three consecutive losses at Veterans Stadium without an offensive touchdown; only one victory ever in temperatures under 40; and the hostile fans and slippery turf in the Vet's final NFL game.
After the Eagles' early flurry, sparked by Brian Mitchell's 70-yard return of the opening kickoff, it was all Tampa Bay. The Bucs led 17-10 at halftime and stifled Philadelphia after intermission.
"We had a lot of confidence," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, in his first season with the team. "We won 13 games. We didn't feel we played our best earlier in Philadelphia. We just have to win one more game."
Gruden and the Bucs will play his old team, the Oakland Raiders, or the Tennessee Titans next Sunday.
"One more to go," said Warren Sapp, the talkative Tampa Bay defensive tackle. "We ain't going for no vacation."
Mike Alstott was one of several Bucs wearing short sleeves, almost in defiance of the 26-degree cold at kickoff. The wind chill was 16.
Alstott scored on a 1-yard run at the end of a 96-yard drive in the first quarter that was highlighted by Joe Jurevicius's 71-yard catch-and-run.
Brad Johnson threw a 9-yard TD pass to Keyshawn Johnson in the second quarter, and Ronde Barber's 92-yard interception return with 3:12 left in the game clinched it after the Eagles had driven 73 yards to the Bucs 10. Martin Gramatica kicked two field goals.
"They were the better team," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "They got after us. We didn't answer the bell on a few things. It's very disappointing. You come this far, 20-some odd weeks of football. You put yourself in position to strike for the Super Bowl and you lose."
Brad Johnson finished 20-of-33 for 259 yards against a Philadelphia secondary with three Pro Bowl selections, allowing the Bucs to control the ball and the clock, especially in the first half.
The defense, meanwhile, totally controlled McNabb, who finished 26-of-49 for 243 yards in just his second game back after missing six games with a broken right ankle. Simeon Rice and Barber had sacks that ended potential rallies.
That was enough to send a franchise with one of the NFL's most dismal histories to pro football's ultimate game.

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