Jon Gruden, it turns out, was worth every dime and every draft pick. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made that a certainty today by turning a dominant defensive performance and an efficient outing on offense into a mostly worry-free Super Bowl triumph, coasting to a 48-21 win over the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium.
Good pitching stopped good hitting, as Tampa Bay's defense won its highly anticipated matchup with Oakland's offense. Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, the league's most valuable player this season, threw a Super Bowl-record five interceptions, three of which the Buccaneers returned for touchdowns.
"We knew to leave the legacy we wanted to leave, we had to win a championship," Buccaneers safety John Lynch said. "I've got to believe we're one of the best defenses of all-time."
In their first 10 possessions of the game, a span that lasted until late in the third quarter, the Raiders managed only three first downs and trailed 34-3. In that stretch, Tampa got three sacks of Gannon, two by defensive end Simeon Rice, and three interceptions, two by safety Dexter Jackson and one that cornerback Dwight Smith returned 44 yards for a touchdown.
Oakland made the score look better temporarily with a trio of touchdowns, on a 39-yard pass from Gannon to wide receiver Jerry Porter, Eric Johnson's 13-yard return of a blocked punt and Gannon's 48-yard strike to wideout Jerry Rice. But linebacker Derrick Brooks got Tampa's fourth interception of Gannon and returned it for a touchdown with a little more than a minute to play, and Smith got his second touchdown of the night on the fifth interception of Gannon with two seconds left.
"I'm not going to say they're the greatest defense I've ever seen or played against, but they're a good defense," Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown said. "We had chances to make plays, and we couldn't do it. We just stunk up the place tonight, basically."
But Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp said the Buccaneers belong "in the same sentence'' with the top defenses in NFL history, adding: "We own a championship, and we played lights-out defense."
Gruden led the Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl title only 11 months after the Glazer family that owns the franchise sent two first-round draft choices, two second-round selections and $8 million to the Raiders for the right to hire Gruden as their coach. As he grabbed the Lombardi Trophy, owner Malcolm Glazer said: "We were waiting for the right man, and the right man came."
Gruden, at 39, became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl and found himself in the unusual position of having to console some of his former Raiders players while celebrating with his current players.
"It's been an emotional week, and there are a lot of feelings I can't describe," Gruden said. "It's better left moving on. . . . At least I can describe it to my wife and kids: This is why we work so hard at it."
Gruden's club looked unbeatable for 21/2 quarters today, with the defense functioning smoothly and the offense mixing the passing of quarterback Brad Johnson nicely with the running of tailback Michael Pittman. Johnson threw an early interception but rebounded with touchdown passes of five and eight yards to wide receiver Keenan McCardell. Pittman rushed for 124 yards on 29 carries.
Fullback Mike Alstott provided a two-yard touchdown run, and Martin Gramatica added two field goals. The Buccaneers led 20-3 at halftime and stretched the lead to 31 points in the third quarter on Johnson's second touchdown throw to McCardell and Smith's first interception return.
The Raiders got a jolt Saturday night when Coach Bill Callahan told his players that Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins would not be in the lineup for the first Super Bowl matchup between the league's top-ranked offense and top-ranked defense of that season.
Oakland began its first possession at Tampa Bay's 36-yard line after Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson intercepted a Johnson pass on the third play of the game. But the Buccaneers' defense set the tone quickly by holding the Raiders to a field goal. Simeon Rice, the NFC sacks leader during the regular season with 151/2, faked to the outside, then got around Oakland left tackle Barry Sims on the inside and dropped Gannon for a six-yard loss on third down.
The Buccaneers had an immediate response. The officials botched a call on the kickoff, awarding the Raiders a fumble recovery when the ball had squirted loose well after Tampa Bay's Aaron Stecker had hit the ground. But the call was overturned by Gruden's instant-replay challenge, and Johnson began with an 11-yard completion to wide receiver Joe Jurevicius.
Johnson connected with Jurevicius again on third and 10, victimizing linebacker Travian Smith on a crossing pattern for a 23-yard gain. Pittman got a superb lead block from Alstott and ripped off a 23-yard run on the next play. But Tampa Bay could get no farther than the Oakland 13, and settled for Gramatica's 31-yard field goal to get even.
Defensive end Greg Spires knocked Raiders Pro Bowl right tackle Lincoln Kennedy out of his way for a third-down sack to end Oakland's next possession. The Buccaneers did nothing with their next two possessions, but their defense forced a punt and then generated a turnover. On third and two from the Tampa 43, Gannon was forced from the pocket by Rice and chased by Spires. Rolling to his right, the quarterback tried to hit rookie tight end Doug Jolley for the first down. But Jackson stepped in front of Jolley for his first interception, and Tampa was in business at its 49-yard line.
The Buccaneers moved to the Oakland 25, with Johnson finding wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson for a pair of first-down catches. Gramatica was true from 43 yards to give the Buccaneers a 6-3 advantage.
Jackson struck again when Gannon tried to force a pass down the field into the teeth of Tampa's "Cover 2'' zone, in which the safeties drop deep to prevent any long passes. Gannon pump-faked to his left and attempted to find Porter to his right, running a deep post pattern against cornerback Brian Kelly. But Jackson read the play for the interception.
The Buccaneers couldn't move, but pinned the Raiders at their 11 on Tom Tupa's punt. Gannon was sacked by Rice on second down and Shane Lechler ended up having to punt out of his own end zone. Karl Williams's 25-yard return set up the Buccaneers at the Oakland 27. Pittman ran for six yards on first down, then rumbled 19 yards to the 2. With Sapp in the lineup on offense as an extra blocker, Alstott was stopped for no gain on first down but scored on his second try.
The Raiders managed a first down, but Brown dropped a third-down throw and they had to punt. Helped by three Oakland penalties, the Buccaneers marched 77 yards for a touchdown. Alstott turned a short pass into a 16-yard gain just before the two-minute warning, and plowed for three yards on a third-and-one play. A Brad Johnson-to-Alstott completion got the Buccaneers 12 yards and a first down at the Oakland 5. After a timeout, McCardell outmaneuvered Woodson and hauled in Johnson's pass for the touchdown 30 seconds before the break.
Oakland's offense began the second half with its familiar three-plays-and-punt routine, and the Buccaneers took nearly eight minutes off the clock while going 89 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-3. Johnson got a first down with a rare scramble, then found Jurevicius for a 33-yard reception. On third down from the Oakland 8, Johnson slipped a short pass in the middle of the field to McCardell, who broke a tackle by safety Anthony Dorsett to get into the end zone.
Smith, the Buccaneers' third cornerback, put the rout into full effect moments later by racing into the path of a pass headed toward Jerry Rice, making the interception and sprinting 44 yards down the sideline for the touchdown.