Joe J's catch breaks ice for Bucs at the chilly VetPosted: Sunday January 19, 2003 9:47 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
PHILADELPHIA -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had something to prove Sunday -- doesn't everyone come playoff time? -- and they got an early chance to do it.
They couldn't score, you know. At least not against the Philadelphia Eagles. The bumbling Bucs hadn't scored an offensive touchdown against the Iggles in the chilly unfriendly confines of Veterans Stadium in, like, forever. Heck, they could barely move the ball against the Green Curtain.
So when the Eagles, already up 7-3 in the first quarter of Sunday's NFC Championship, pushed Tampa Bay into a third down deep in the Buccaneers' side of the field, it looked as if the pundits, for once, had it right.
We should have known better. The pundits are wrong. A lot.
Faced with a third-and-2 from their own 24-yard-line, the Buccaneers pulled off the play of the game, one that set them up for -- get this -- their first offensive touchdown against the Eagles since a mop-up game on the last day of the 2001 season, and their first offensive touchdown against the Eagles at Veterans Stadium since 1999.
And, by the by, it propelled them into next Sunday's Super Bowl.
"In my opinion," said Bucs safety John Lynch, "it was the play that gave our sideline life."
The Buccaneers have long had a defense-first, offense-if-necessary kind of a team. But when they bought head coach and offensive whiz Jon Gruden from the Oakland Raiders in the offseason for $8 million and four draft picks, that was supposed to change.
The Bucs won a franchise-best 12 games this season but, really, it was because of their top-ranked defense. When they met the Eagles earlier in the year, they lost 20-10 -- without, as we all know by now, scoring an offensive touchdown.
But the Bucs ran off 31 points last week against the San Francisco 49ers, and they came into the NFC title game feeling as if they'd turned the corner offensively. Unfortunately for them, the Eagles, with the second-best defense in the league, were waiting just around the corner.
The Buccaneers scratched together a nine-play scoring drive the first time they had the ball, only to settle for a 48-yard Martin Gramatica field goal. Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson was picked off on the next series and the Bucs were pushed back to their own 24 the next time they had the ball.
The crowd at the bone-chilled Vet was frenzied, the Bucs were looking ragged and the pundits were all sitting, smugly, in the press box.
Then Johnson found wideout Joe Jurevicius on a quick little in-route over the middle. The pass traveled about four yards, good enough for a first down. But Jurevicius wasn't stopping there.
"Brad threw it on the money and [tight end] Ken Dilger got a great block downfield, which enabled me to take off," Jurevicius said. "I'll take it anyway I can get them."
Jurevicius, who started off on the right side of the line on the "X Option," took a couple steps out, faked lightly as if he were going to throw a block, then cut toward the middle of the field. Johnson hit him in stride, the receiver sprinted toward the left sideline and then turned it upfield.
Seventy-one yards later -- some 67 after the catch -- Jurevicius was brought down at the Philadelphia 5-yard-line. Mike Alstott bulled in from a yard out two plays later and the Buccaneers would not trail again.
More importantly, the Bucs made a statement with that simple play.
They could score against the Eagles.
"It was huge," Tampa Bay wideout Keyshawn Johnson said of the Jurevicius catch and sprint. "I didn't even realize he was running with it. Then I looked up and thought 'He's going to score, he's going to score, he's going to score.' That's what got us back to where we needed to be."
Said quarterback Johnson: "Joe is a sparkplug. That one catch, it's going to go down in Tampa Bay history."
The Eagles tied the score at 10-10 in the second quarter, but the Bucs answered with a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive culminating in a 9-yard touchdown catch by Keyshawn to take a lead they'd never cough up. The two touchdowns alone would have been enough, but the famed Bucs' defense added another late in the fourth quarter when Ronde Barber intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass and ran 92 yards the other way for the final score in the 27-10 Tampa Bay win.
"A lot of people said we sucked [offensively]. But you know what? It's great to silence our critics," said Bucs tackle Kenyatta Walker.
Jurevicius' catch ended an emotional week for the fifth-year pro from Penn State. On Tuesday, his wife gave birth to a son, Michael, a month premature. Jurevicius didn't practice all week, and he even gave some thought to skipping the game to be with his wife and baby.
Instead, he decided to play -- and turned in the play that proved that the Buccaneers really do have an offense to go with their defense.
"It was an emotional roller coaster that no one can imagine," Jurevicius said of the past few days. "When my kid gets healthy and looks back on this, I want him to be proud of this. For everything he has gone through this week, the least I could do was get on a plane and try to do everything I could. That catch was for him."
And, of course, for all the pundits who said the Bucs couldn't score on the Eagles.