Tampa Bay stuffs Saints 48-21

Published 6:00 am Monday, December 24, 2001

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reject thenotion they’re playing for coach Tony Dungy’s job.

”But if we are,” defensive tackle Warren Sapp saidSunday, ”then this isn’t a bad way to do it.”

The Bucs (8-6) moved closer to clinching a playoff berthfor the fourth time in five years, beating New Orleans 48-21 for aone-game lead over the Saints (7-7) in the race for the final NFCwild-card spot.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Dungy, who led Tampa Bay to the conference championshipgame two years ago, has been under fire because of the team’sinconsistency the first half of the season.

But the Bucs have a history of finishing strong underthe most successful coach in franchise history and will play theirremaining two games at home, where they are 12-1 in December underDungy.

”We’ve got guys who can play the game – that’s thething,” Dungy said, looking ahead to Saturday night against theBaltimore Ravens. ”We’re coming down the stretch. We have guys whocan focus and forget about the past.”

That was evident Sunday in rebounding from a 24-pointroad loss to Chicago.

Aaron Stecker broke three tackles in returning theopening kickoff a team-record 86 yards. The Bucs scored two playslater, forced a turnover on New Orleans’ third play and scoredagain for a 14-0 lead five minutes into the game.

”It was one of those days where things just startfalling right and you get on a roll and you just keep on rolling,”said Bucs offensive tackle Jerry Wunsch. ”Every guy in the lockerroom knew we needed to have this game, otherwise we’re not in thedriver’s seat. Now, on to the next game.”

After facing the Ravens, the Bucs will close the seasonagainst the Philadelphia Eagles. The Saints will finish with twohome games, as well, facing the Washington Redskins and SanFrancisco 49ers.

”We have to move on and win our last two games,”Saints receiver Willie Jackson said. ”If they stumble again, we’llbe right there.”

The loss was the second straight for New Orleans, comingoff a Monday night loss to St. Louis that dropped the Saints backinto a tie with the Bucs for the sixth and final NFC playoffposition.

”It’s embarrassing, but you have to move on and try toput it behind you as quickly as possible,” Saints defensive endJoe Johnson said.

Brad Johnson threw touchdown passes to Karl Williams,Warrick Dunn and Dave Moore, while Mike Alstott ran for 101 yardsand one TD for Tampa Bay. Martin Gramatica kicked four field goalsbefore leaving with an injury.

Ronde Barber returned one of his three interceptions 36yards for a TD with 2 minutes left.

With Gramatica sidelined by a strained right hamstringsuffered on a kickoff and aggravated on a fourth-quarter extrapoint, the Bucs finished the rout with a 2-point conversion toequal the franchise record for points in a game.

Aaron Brooks threw TD passes of 11 and 16 yards to JoeHorn and 10 yards to Eddie Williams for New Orleans in the secondhalf, finishing 21-of-38 for 248 yards and fourinterceptions.

”We didn’t finish off like we should have, but we willtake the win,” said Sapp, who sat out most of the fourth quarterwith a sore left shoulder.

The Saints led the NFL with 49 sacks, including 21 intheir previous three games. However, a Tampa Bay offensive linethat’s had trouble protecting Johnson – as well as opening holesfor the running game – did a good job of keeping the quarterback onhis feet and clearing the path for Alstott.

Johnson wasn’t sacked, and the Saints didn’t force anyturnovers.

”I think it’s a big confidence booster for our O line,because they heard all week long that here comes these four huntersthat were going to kill ’em and drive ’em back, that we we’re notgoing to be able to run the ball, that we ain’t going to be able todo nothing,” Sapp said. ”I’ve always said, just let us get in theplayoffs. If we get there, I like our chances of doingwell.”

Notes: The Bucs outgained the Saints 269-34 in the firsthalf … Keyshawn Johnson had two receptions for 41 yards, givinghim 102 catches for 1,237 yards this season … The Saints’ RickyWilliams was limited to 26 yards rushing on 10carries.