The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' bubble burst in a most unlikely location today -- Giants Stadium, home of the previously winless and hapless New York Giants.
But on a blustery, raw and later rainy day, it was the young Bucs who played like an 0-5 team, making enough mistakes to let the Giants slide by, 17-14. It was Tampa Bay's first loss in six starts, ending their one-week reign as the NFL's only undefeated team.
"The Giants just outplayed us in every way imaginable," said Buc Coach John McKay, chomping on a postgame cigar. "We have no excuses. They beat us with some of their better players (including defensive tackle John Mendenhall) on the bench. Give them credit."
The Giants got their first victory under rookie Coach Ray Perkins because they were able to run the ball -- a major surprise -- and because for the first time this season, they used a 3-4 defense that shut down the Buccaneer running attack.
Giant running back Billy Taylor, a reserve most of the season, started in place of injured Doug Kotar. He gained 148 yards and scored two touchdowns. Joe Danelo's 47-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter provided the winning points.
The final reason for the Giant victory in front of 72,348 delighted, long-suffering fans was Tampa Bay quarterback Doug Williams. A 37.5 percent passer coming in, Williams was awful most of the afternoon. He completed just 14 of 38 passes, with three interceptions, two setting up 10 Giant points. He missed open receivers all afternoon.
"I'm guilty, I'm human," said Williams, a third-year quarterback from Grambling. "I threw some bad today. No excuses or anything they had to play in the weather, too. We just got beat."
The Bucs got beat because they dug themselves a hole in the first half and didn't have the second-half offensive punch to dig themselves out.
The first mistake came when McKay elected to go for a first down on fourth-and-one from the Giant 39. With 4:42 left in the first quarter, Ricky Bell dove right and was stopped by three Giants for no gain. That not only gave the Giants the ball, but got the skeptical crowd behind them.
"The crowd definitely makes a difference," said defensive end Gary Jeter, who along with partner George Martin, spent much of the day waving his arms to arouse the fans. "Stopping them on fourth down helped our confidence and got the fans with us. It was a big play."
Just as important was the Giants' ability to take over the ball and move it, something their offense, averaging 226 yards and 11.9 points a game, rarely has done this year.
Perhaps it was the new faces doing it. Quarterback Phil Simms, a first-round draft pick, and Taylor, a second-year man, were making their first pro starts.
With Simms at the controls, the Giants marched 61 yards to a touchdown. The drive's two biggest plays were back-to-back Taylor blasts of 27 and 15 yards, moving the ball to the Bucs three as the first quarter ended.
"I was surprised to see such big holes to be honest," said Taylor, who was told once previously by Perkins he would start, only to have the coach change his mind. "I just ran as hard as I could."
On the second quarter's second play, Taylor ran into the end zone, and it was 7-0 Giants. "They blocked us real well," said Tampa Bay linebacker Leroy Selmon. "They had a good day, we had a bad one. We finally stopped them the second half but by then we were kind of in trouble."
The trouble got serious on the Bucs' second play after the kickoff. First, center Steve Wilson was called for holding on first down, pushing his team back to the 12.
Then, trying to hit Gordon Jones, Williams almost threw the ball across the Hudson River, missing his receiver by eight yards but finding the Giant Odis McKinney who returned the interception 25 yards to the Tampa Bay 11.
Three plays later, Taylor knifed into the end zone for his second touchdown and, with 13:54 left in the half, the Giants led, 14-0.
"Give this offensive line some credit, said 14-year veteran guard Doug Van Horn, who has suffered through 10 losing seasons in his career here. "We got some good blocks on them, especially the first half. Taylor ran well though, didn't he?"
Taylor's 33 carries for 148 yards was not only the Giants' first 100-yard game of the season, but the biggest day for a Giant back since Ron Johnson had 140 yards against Dallas nine years ago.
The Bucs, who finished with 91 yards rushing as a team, finally got moving at the end of the first half.
Helped by a personal foul against Jeter, they drove 72 yards. The touchdown came on tight end Larry Mucker's circus catch from 14 yards out with 58 seconds left. Mucker leaped for the overthrown ball, deflected it off his helmet, juggled it, and finally caught it to cut the gap to a 14-7.
"We were confident even after they scored," said Perkins, a chain-smoker whose next smile undoubtedly will be his first. "Our offensive line surprised everyone, including me, with the holes they opened. And Billy Taylor ran into the holes pretty good."
The Bucs finally got wise to Taylor in the second half and shut down the Giant offense almost completely, holding New York under 20 points for the 17th consecutive game. Perkins kept the ball on the ground, allowing Simms to throw just 12 times. He completed six for 37 yards. The most important statistic for the Giants, however, was one turnover, an early fumble that caused no damage.
The Giants got the clinching three points early in the fourth quarter, courtesy of Williams.
After a pass to Isaac Hagins good for a first down at the 34 had been called back by another holding call on Wilson, Williams, passing from his end zone, tried to hit Morris Owens on the sideline.Terry Jackson intercepted at the 31 and the Giants were in business.
"All day we were saying try to throw deep," Jackson said. "The ball just floated to me, had nothing on it."
Taking no chances, the Giants ran three plays that picked up two yards, then watched Danelo easily make a 47-yard field goal with the 20 mph wind at his back.
That 17-7 margin proved to be enough. Williams, with the rain coming down, did manage to take his team 79 yards to a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jimmie Giles -- another spectacular catch -- with 1:50 left, but it was too late.
Both coaches remained in character after the upset. McKay took the blame, gave the Giants credit and said, "We will return."
Perkins never cracked even a tiny smile and, asked how his first NFL coaching victory felt, looked a questioner in the eye and said: "Like it's supposed to -- good."