John McKay's ravenous Bucs ate the Los Angeles Rams for brunch today, horns and all.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spawned in an expansion draft in 1976, put the Rams away with 21 points in the second quarter, chased Pat Haden out of the quarterback slot before the fourth quarter began and took up residence with a 4-0 record in the penthouse of the Central Division of the National Football Conference.
The final score of 21-6 touched off horn-honking that could be heard in Miami after the crowd of 69,497 made its way to the ankle-deep puddles in the parking lots.
There figure to be reverberations in the Ram's feuding front office, now that Los Angeles is 2-2 in the NFC West, more particularly because some Buccaneers were mocking Coach Ray Malavasi's pregame statement that he did "not fear anything about the Tampa Bay teams."
Quarterback Doug Williams threw two touchdown passes, set up Ricky Bell's touchdown run and took some good licks from the Ram defenders. He missed one play in the third quarter when he had the wind knocked out of him by defensive end Fred Dryer, whose tackle broke Williams' jaw last year.
Asked if he thought the Rams were trying to destroy his confidence by roughing him up, Williams said, "I was like Malavasi, I didn't fear anybody out there today."
Had Malavasi's statement roiled up the Buccaneers?
"Well, everybody reads the papers," Williams said.
Williams missed on his first four passes, attempted 20 and connected with only five, two for touchdowns. He was intercepted once. But he has not been sacked in 89 attempts.
"I actually threw three touchdowns today," he quipped, referring to Ram linebacker Jim Youngblood running back the interception 31 yards for Los Angeles' only points. Frank Corral's conversion attempt was blocked.
McKay picked up on that, saying, "Our offense scored all 27 points. We played as good in the second quarter as we can play football. As long as we are healthy I think we can play with most people. I don't see anybody that I know will beat us. We played defense about as well as we can play defense, today".
The Rams' Malavasi said, "They (L.A. receivers) weren't catching the ball, and they're paid to catch the ball. We didn't replace Haden with Vince Ferragamo for the long pass; we just thought we needed a change. I thought about it at halftime. Haden couldn't get anything going and neither could Ferragamo."
Neither could the Los Angeles running game. Tampa Bay outrushed the Rams, 148-yards to 110, and kept the ball for 46 running plays to 27 against the No. 1 defense in the NFC.
Haden completed 13 of 27 passes for only 64 yards, with one interception. Twelve of their 17 completions were to running backs.
Haden yelled to his former Southern California coach, McKay, as the quarterback left the field: "Your team played well."
Haden told interviewers: "The Bucs' linebackers took such deep drops we couldn't complete long passes. And the Bucs' coverage was excellent on passes to our backs.
"What if we played the Bucs tomorrow? I'd hope they would fumble. These guys will win their division."
Ram defensive end Jack Youngblood said, "Tampa has got a good, legitimate team. Doug Williams has come a long way from last year. He is a fine quarterback."
Coach McKay was asked about Tampa Bay's problem in Chicago next week against the Bears, who lost to the downstate Dolphins today, 31-16.
"I won't even think about Chicago until tomorrow. I want to think about the Rams. I was a Rams fan when I lived in Los Angeles. As to defensing Haden, I'd give that credit to our defensive coach."
About attempting only eight passes in the second half, with a 21-6 lead, McKay, who calls the plays, said, "We were content to keep the score as it was. I saw no reason to throw the ball just to keep the fans interested."
He noted that the Buccaneers dared to pass during a sudden, gusty squall near the end of the first half.
Williams said: "I think the rain had more effect on the Rams than it did on us. This team doesn't feel pressure and neither do I; what's going to happen is going to happen."
Williams, 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds, doesn't pamper himself. He chased Youngblood deep into the Tampa Bay end zone and tackled him though the Ram linebacker already had scored on the interception of the quarterback's pass.
Lawrence McCutcheon fumbled away the ball at the Los Angeles 27-yard line near the end of the first quarter, giving Williams an opportunity to atone for the interception.
Williams went for the kill on a first-down pass from the Los Angeles 15 and executed a finesse throw to wide receiver Larry Mucker for a touchdown, leading him in front of cornerback Rod Perry.
Three penalties against the Rams plus a 16-yard pass to wide receiver Morris Owens took the Bucs much of 84 yards and Bell went the last five for the touchdown. Guard Greg Roberts made such an effective block that he was given the game ball.
Ahead, 14-6, Williams took the Bucs' 70 yards, most of it on an 11-yard run by rookie Jerry Eckwood from Arkansas, and a 25-yard pass to Eckwood. With the rain tumbling down in torrents, Williams threw the ball on a laser-beam trajectory 29 yards to tight end Jimmie Giles for a touchdown.