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Plodding win

Alstott, defense help Buccaneers down Pats 21-16

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Latest: Sunday September 03, 2000 10:20 PM

  Mike Alstott Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott turns the corner for a touchdown run Sunday. AP

FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) -- A strong defense almost took Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl. On Sunday, the offense did its part.

Still adjusting to a new system and new offensive players, the Buccaneers beat the New England Patriots 21-16 Sunday behind Mike Alstott's two touchdown runs. Not bad for the team with the fifth fewest points and fourth fewest yards in the NFL last season.

"We have the talent, we have the system, and we're just going to get better," Alstott said.

That's scary news for the rest of the NFL, which now must contend with four offensive newcomers -- wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, linemen Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel and offensive coordinator Les Steckel.

Opponents already had to fight a defense ranked third last season when the Bucs lost the NFC title game 11-6 to Super Bowl champion St. Louis. On Sunday, that defense recovered from a rare lapse to clinch the game and ruin Bill Belichick's debut as Patriots coach.

"We always play good red zone defense," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "All of the mistakes we've made out there, I'm quite sure they can be corrected."

A big one came when Drew Bledsoe threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Terry Glenn that cut the Bucs' lead to 21-16 with 3:01 left. The Patriots got the ball back and moved to a first down at the Tampa Bay 22 with 14 seconds remaining.

Then Bledsoe, under a heavy rush, threw four straight incompletions, the last one wide of the end zone on the final play.

"The fourth quarter, we had to go one more time," Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "That's what we pride ourselves on."

It took the Patriots nearly 57 minutes to score against the Bucs defense.

"It was tough for us to get open," Glenn said. "When we did break a man free, they pressured Drew."

Bledsoe was sacked a career-high six times, four of them in the first 15 minutes. But special teams kept the Patriots in the game. Adam Vinatieri kicked a 30-yard field goal after Kato Serwanga recovered Karl Williams' fumble on the opening kickoff, and Troy Brown's 66-yard punt return gave New England a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter.

"We didn't play well at all. It was amazing we still had a chance to win at the end," Brown said.

The Bucs led 14-10 at halftime on Alstott's 5-yard run and Shaun King's 8-yard pass to Reidel Anthony after faking a spike. On the previous play, King and Jacquez Green connected on a 33-yard gain after Antonio Langham gambled and failed to intercept the pass.

"We audibled so that they wouldn't look for anything," Anthony said. "We saw that when everyone was relaxed I was able to sneak into the corner. Serwanga leaped in [toward King] and Shaun just hit me with it."

That's the way the day went for the Patriots.

"We beat ourselves," Langham said. "They want to establish their running game first and they did a good job of that."

Warrick Dunn had 56 yards and Alstott 54 as the Bucs outrushed the Patriots 140-88. Tampa Bay was 11-5 last year, but averaged just 16.9 points and 111 yards rushing.

Belichick, last year's defensive coordinator for the New York Jets, succeeded the fired Pete Carroll after the Patriots went 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time in four years. He inherited a strong defense but is rebuilding the offense of a team that lost six of its last eight games in 1999.

"Their defense mixed things up well," Belichick said. "We need to shore up every area."

Alstott scored the Bucs' last touchdown on a 3-yard run with 3:09 gone in the fourth quarter.

"We moved the ball offensively well and the defense did pretty much what I said they were going to do," said Johnson, who led the Bucs with four catches in his first game since being traded by the Jets. "We did what we were supposed to do."

Notes: The Patriots lost for the first time in six home openers and the second time in 11 September games starting with the 1997 season. ... Dunn left after hurting his right shoulder with five minutes left in the half, but returned early in the third quarter. ... Brown led the Patriots with 33 yards rushing, and Bledsoe, normally immobile, had a career-high 30. Kevin Faulk was the top rusher among New England running backs with 21 yards, but had 11 receptions. ... Tampa Bay is 9-1 in its last 10 regular-season games. ... Two weeks earlier, the Bucs beat the Patriots 31-21 in an exhibition game on the same field.

 
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