MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers figured out how to
finish a game, an instinct they've been lacking the past two
seasons. That vicious, ball-hawking defense was back in familiar
form, too, as Daunte Culpepper and the Minnesota Vikings found out.
The Buccaneers forced five turnovers -- including two
interceptions by Brian Kelly -- and pulled out a scrappy
season-opening 24-13 victory over the Vikings on Sunday.
"That's the type of thing we can do on defense," Simeon Rice
said. "We want to do something special."
Culpepper lost two fumbles and threw three INTs, the second one
glancing off Moe Williams' hands and into Kelly's arms at the Tampa
Bay 6-yard line with 1:45 left and Minnesota trailing by four.
Tight end Alex Smith caught two touchdown passes and fellow
rookie Carnell "Cadillac" Williams finished with 148 yards on 27
carries, including a 71-yard touchdown run with 1:23 remaining that
"I kept telling guys, 'I'm going to break 'em," Williams
After winning the Super Bowl in the 2002-03 season, the Bucs
went 12-20 over the last two years -- losing 15 of those by one
touchdown or less. But finally, the tide turned their way in the
"If that's an evaluation of what we're capable of doing,"
coach Jon Gruden said, "that's a good sign."
Coming off a career-best season, Culpepper looked more like a
rookie than a three-time Pro Bowl pick. He finished 22-for-33 for
233 yards, failing to throw a TD pass for the first time in 22
The Vikings' only touchdown came from new free safety Darren
Sharper on an 88-yard interception return in the first quarter.
"When things could go bad, it went bad," Culpepper said. "It
was almost like a bad episode of 'The Twilight Zone."
Whether it was the play calling with new offensive coordinator
Steve Loney, the nonexistent running game (16 carries for 26 yards)
or steady pressure on Culpepper, the Vikings looked as lousy on
offense as they had in some time.
"I didn't like the way we weren't paying attention to detail at
the end of the game like I know we can and I know we should,"
Of course standout receiver Randy Moss was missing, too, after
the trade that shipped him to Oakland. And while the core of the
Bucs' defense -- Rice, Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ronde
Barber -- are all 30 years or older, it remains one of the league's
Barber was asked if it was realistic to expect them to keep
Minnesota from scoring an offensive TD.
"To us? Yeah," he said. "Not to anybody outside of our locker
room. Regardless of what we did last year, our standards are still
At least Minnesota's special teams were working: Rookie Chris
Kluwe boomed four punts for an average of 54.3 yards, and new
kicker Paul Edinger nailed field goals of 53 and 22 yards.
Trailing 17-13, the Vikings got the ball at their own 10 with
4:11 to go. Using two catches by Nate Burleson and two penalties by
the Bucs, they drove 78 yards in a little more than 2 minutes. But
Kelly's interception was the end of that.
"We know the weapons they have on offense," Kelly said. "To
be able to hold them to not many points, we feel proud about
Brian Griese wasn't great, either, but he led Tampa Bay on two
long touchdown drives in the second quarter to take a 17-7 halftime
lead. He finished 18-for-29 for 213 yards with two TDs and two
Frustrated by several seasons of defensive failure, the Vikings
spent plenty of money on upgrades for that side of the ball. The
new acquisitions proved their worth in the first half: Sharper had
a handful of jarring hits in addition to his touchdown return,
cornerback Fred Smoot picked off a pass and nose tackle Pat
Williams had a sack.
"There will be some things, believe it or not, when we look at
the tape, that will be encouraging," coach Mike Tice said. "Then
there will be a lot of things that weren't encouraging."
Most of those came on offense in the first half, when
Minnesota's five possessions went like this: turnover, turnover,
turnover, three-and-out, three-and-out.
Former Vikings defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who signed with the
Bucs this summer, recovered a fumble to end one of those.
"Take the head off the chicken, and it runs around," Hovan
said. "The defense has been doing that way before I got here. It's
just a staple. You say, 'Tampa,' and you think of defense."
Sharper has returned three straight interceptions for
touchdowns, the first two for Green Bay last year. ... Joey
Galloway caught five passes for 97 yards for Tampa Bay. ... The
Vikings released WR Koren Robinson to avoid guaranteeing his full
base salary for the season, but they're expected to re-sign him
next week. ... Quarles forced two fumbles and had a team-high seven
tackles. ... Minnesota's Jermaine Wiggins had a pair of touchdown
receptions called back by penalties in the second half.
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