Sunday, August 26, 2007

A look back

The year was 2000...

MIAMI (Ticker) -- Election controversy may be all the rage in Florida, but no one can question which NFL team has the state's best defense.

Forcing five turnovers in a game played under a steady rain, including four interceptions of Jay Fiedler, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers posted a 16-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins in the first regular-season battle between the interconference Florida rivals since 1997.

"The wet ball had a lot to do with it, but a couple were just bad throws," Fiedler said. "I put (the loss) on my shoulders because we gave them 13 points on mistakes."

The Bucs defense, which entered as the second stingiest in the NFC with 204 points allowed, scored or set up 13 of the 16 points and yielded just one touchdown.

"They (the defense) stepped up and got the job done, creating turnovers and field position," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "Anytime you have five takeaways, you've played very well."

Middle linebacker Jamie Duncan, the successor to former captain Hardy Nickerson, was the Bucs star with a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown and a fumble recovery in Miami territory that led to Martin Gramatica's game-winning 46-yard field goal with 8:12 left in the fourth quarter.

Miami entered as the league's second-ranked defense with 166 points allowed but forced just one turnover on an interception by safety Brian Walker. They had four sacks but had problems containing Warrick Dunn out of the backfield despite the rainy conditions.

"We were out there playing today to see who has the better defense," Bucs safety John Lynch said. "We had a challenge today and to our credit, we stepped up."

The win was the sixth in seven games for the Buccaneers (9-5), who moved into sole possession of second place in the NFC Central and firmly in control of their playoff destiny.

The Dolphins (10-4) fell behind Tennessee (11-3) and Oakland (11-3) for the top record in the AFC, but remain one game ahead of the New York Jets (9-5) in the East. Miami can clinch a playoff berth if Indianapolis loses to Buffalo on Monday night.

"You can't turn over the ball five times," Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We just made too many mistakes and did not give ourselves a chance to win. It's as simple as that."

Linebacker Shelton Quarles intercepted a deflected pass and returned it five yards to the Miami 32, setting up a 38-yard field goal by Gramatica on the final play of the first half.

Cornerback Donnie Abraham and safety Damien Robinson had fourth-quarter interceptions for Tampa Bay.

Miami reached the Bucs' 19 in the final minute and appeared to be in prime field goal position for Olindo Mare, but Fielder was penalized 11 yards for intentional grounding as he tried to evade a strong pass rush by tackle Warren Sapp.

On the next play, Fiedler attempted to complete a pass to Oronde Gadsden between two defenders, but Robinson made a leaping interception at the Tampa Bay 8 with 14 seconds left to preserve the win for the Bucs.

"I saw the play was coming my way and I said to myself, 'This guy will not come down with the ball,'" Robinson said. "I wasn't sure if I was going to get it, but I knew I had to keep him from catching it, and I did. Luckily, I was able to get the ball in the process."

Dunn had just 59 yards on 28 carries but caught six passes for 84 yards, including a 45-yard reception that set up a tying 30-yard field goal by Gramatica with 10:36 left in the fourth quarter.

Tampa Bay's Shaun King completed 11-of-15 passes for 147 yards with an interception. Keyshawn Johnson had four receptions for 41 yards.

Miami's Lamar Smith rushed for 79 yards on 23 carries, giving him 1,016 yards this season.

Fiedler was 13-of-28 for 175 yards with four interceptions. He had gone 93 consecutive attempts without an interception before Duncan's touchdown early in the second quarter and had just nine all season.

The Buccaneers lead the series between the Florida rivals, 5-2.

Miami struck first when Mare kicked a 35-yard field goal with 3:11 left in the first quarter. Fiedler completed 4-of-6 passes on the drive for 70 yards, including three to Gadsden for 56 yards.

Duncan, a third-year player in his first season as a starter, shifted the momentum to Tampa Bay early in the second quarter.

Rolling right, Fiedler flipped a short pass for Smith, but Duncan cut in front of the running back and picked off his second pass of the season.

Defensive end Chidi Ahanotu blocked Fiedler and Smith was unable to run down Duncan, who raced 31 yards untouched into the end zone with 14:01 left in the second quarter.

"I read it kind of late, but I did see the back come out, then I think the quarterback through the ball a little behind him," Duncan said. "I stepped in front of him and just made sure I caught the ball first."

Fiedler suffered a shoulder injury with 2:55 left in the half after he was sacked by defensive tackle James Cannida. He was replaced by Damon Huard.

But Fiedler returned for Miami's next possession and had his first pass deflected by linebacker Derrick Brooks into the hands of teammate Quarles, who returned it five yards to the Miami 32 with 13 seconds left in the half.

After a 12-yard pass from King to Dunn, Gramatica kicked a 38-yard field goal on the final play of the half.

"I was dropping back in zone coverage and Derrick made a great play by tipping the ball, and I was in the right place," Quarles said. "I thought to myself, 'I cannot drop this ball.' Luckily, I didn't."

Despite the injury, Fiedler returned in the second half and led Miami to 10 third-quarter points.

"I talked to him and he said he was fine," Wannstedt said of the decision to stay with Fiedler. "He said a combination of the wet ball, the rain and his shoulder didn't help him as far as having a lot of zip on the ball."

Fiedler engineered a nine-play, 48-yard drive, hitting Tony Martin with a 16-yard pass, to set up a 23-yard field goal by Mare 6:35 into the third quarter.

Miami took the lead on a one-yard run by Smith with 3:18 left in the quarter. Fiedler hit Gadsden with a 19-yard pass and Smith broke off a 19-yard run to highlight the drive.

Tampa Bay responded with a 13-play, 77-yard drive that featured a 45-yard pass to Dunn on 2nd-and-33. Gramatica capped it with a 30-yard field goal 4:24 into the fourth quarter.

On the Bucs' ensuing possession, Fiedler fumbled a snap from center and Duncan recovered the wet ball at the Miami 30. After three running plays netted three yards, Gramatica kicked a 46-yard field goal with 8:12 remaining.

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