NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE

On the outside looking in


Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks speaks with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin during their NFC divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers in Tampa, Fla.

Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 22, 2003 at 1:42 a.m.

Facts

Where they rank

  • Tampa Bay's defense finished No. 1 overall this season, allowing just 252.8 yards per game. A closer look at where they rank categorically among the league's 32 teams:
  • AGAINST THE RUN: Sixth.
  • AGAINST THE PASS: First.
  • SCORING: First.
  • TURNOVERS: First.
  • OVERALL: First. - statistics courtesy of www.nfl.com

  • SAN DIEGO - The answers are: the 1985 Chicago Bears, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain, Dallas' The Doomsday Defense, and the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
    The question could be, name the NFL's most dominating defenses of all time.
    The Bears, Ravens, Steelers and Cowboys have already earned their places on that list.
    Super Bowl XXXVII will tell whether the Bucs join them.
    They have the numbers, but to join that list, they'll need to beat the Oakland Raiders Sunday in Super Bowl XXXVII at Qualcomm Stadium.
    "If we get it done, we deserve to be in the conversation with those people," said linebacker Derrick Brooks, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.
    If they don't get it done, they'll always be listed just below them.
    The defense, under the direction of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, has been the one constant for the Bucs since they began their rise from the ashes of NFL ineptness late in the 1996 season. The Bucs' defense has ranked among the league's top 10 every year since 1997, and most years were in the top five.
    Since the start of the 1997 season, the Bucs have given up the fewest points (1,538) of any NFL franchise. Baltimore is second at 1,741.
    This year, they were No. 1 by a wide margin in total defense (252.8) and points allowed (196), becoming only the sixth NFL team to give up less than 200 points in a 16-game season.
    They've given up 16 points in two playoff games, against the No. 8 (San Francisco) and No. 10 (Philadelphia) offenses in the NFL.
    They haven't given up a point in the second half in four straight games,
    They've held opponents under 10 points eight times and under 20 points 13 times.
    They've put all but one of the blocks in place to take their spot among the best in history. The can lay the last block Sunday.
    "This is the last game and cements everything," said defensive end Simeon Rice. "There's a lot of talk and it sounds good, but we've got 60 minutes to go to see if it's really real."
    It's a defense that contained Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb last week in a 27-10 win over the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, and Jeff Garcia the week before in a 31-6 win in the Divisional round.
    It's a defense that led the league in interceptions (31) and shared the league lead in turnover differential (plus-17) in the regular season and has added four more interceptions and is plus-5 in turnovers in two playoff games.
    It's a defense that was already in place when Jon Gruden became the coach, but also a defense that Gruden's personality and coaching style have pushed to an even higher level.
    "He challenged our defense," said safety John Lynch. "He said he had a ton of respect for what we had done, but he felt we could be dominant, and that's what we've done."
    He wasn't afraid to call the defensive players out, make them mad, make them prove themselves.
    Defensive tackle Warren Sapp recalls one particular day in training camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports.
    "When he ran a bootleg, I just stood there and laughed at him," Sapp recalled. "I told him if he was scared to run the ball, then he should just say he was afraid to run the ball.
    "He looked at me and said, 'I've been looking at your film for the last two years and there have been quarterbacks all around you running around bootlegging.'
    "That (ticked) me off, so I said, "OK, if you're going to play like that and use the boot,' I just had to tell the end to watch the boot.
    "It became a challenge the way he poked at us all the time and it became really personal for us.
    "It put us in a whole different mindset and light."
    It's a defense built around speed and uses that speed to smother an offense.
    "the fastest defense I have seen," said Gruden, whose Oakland Raiders were eliminated in the playoffs two years ago by the Ravens. "I am not the most experienced coach, but we competed with these guys hard in the offseason and in training camp. It is a very unforgiving defense."
    Against Oakland, the Bucs will face a team that led the league in total offense (389.8) and passing offense (279.7) and was second to Kansas City in points scored, averaging 28.1 points per game.
    "I think this is one of the great defenses of all time," said Lynch, "and I think we have a chance to cement that by winning the Super Bowl."
    If they do, this defense can then take its place next to the best ever. If they don't, they'll always stand one step short.

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