SAN DIEGO – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and coach Jon Gruden won their first Super Bowl on Sunday, routing Oakland 48-21 in a matchup of the NFL’s best offense against its best defense.
The Tampa Bay defense won by a mile, shutting down the Raiders for three quarters and holding on as they made a belated comeback attempt.
Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson had two interceptions, as did Dwight Smith, who returned both of his picks for touchdowns, including a 50-yarder to finish off the scoring with 2 seconds left in the game. Derrick Brooks also returned an interception for a touchdown.
Simeon Rice had two of the Bucs’ five sacks as Tampa romped to a 20-3 halftime lead then scored two quick third-quarter touchdowns.
That rendered futile a late comeback by the Raiders that included a touchdown on a blocked punt and 48-yard TD pass from league MVP Rich Gannon to Jerry Rice.
The Tampa Bay offense did its part, too, led by Michael Pittman, who ran for 124 yards on 29 carries.
Mike Alstott had a 2-yard TD run and Brad Johnson (news) added two TD passes to Keenan McCardell, the second an 11-yarder after an 89-yard drive that ate up almost eight minutes of the third quarter.
Just 43 seconds later, Smith grabbed the ball away from Jerry Rice and took it to the end zone to make it 34-3.
Oakland owner Al Davis’ slogan “Just win, baby!” wasn’t going to work this time.
How good was the Tampa Bay defense?
Oakland had just 62 total yards in the first half, second-lowest total in Super Bowl history. And the five interceptions of Gannon were the most he had in any game this season. He finished 24-of-44 for 272 yards and two touchdowns.
Credit the win also to the 39-year-old Gruden, who left Oakland a year ago for Tampa Bay in what seemed at the time far too much in draft picks and cash – $8 million to be exact.
But Gruden’s knowledge of his old team worked out perfectly.
“Every play they’ve run, we’ve run in practice,” Tampa Bay safety John Lynch said.
To be fair, the Raiders might have entered this game a bit distracted.
Their All-Pro center, Barret Robbins, was sent home before the game for missing team functions on Saturday. The Bucs took advantage, with Warren Sapp, Lynch and the interior defense pushing up the middle constantly against backup center Adam Treu to put pressure on Gannon and shut down the run.
This was a victory for one of the NFL’s longtime sad sacks.
Between 1983 and 1996, the Bucs were the NFL’s worst franchise, going without a winning season and losing 10 or more games in 13 of those 14 years.
Even a year ago, they were a laughingstock after the Glazer family that owns the franchise fired coach Tony Dungy and went after big-name coaches like Bill Parcells and Steve Mariucci before landing Gruden.
But if this was a glorious day for the Bucs, it was the opposite for the Raiders, who have three Super Bowl victories but hadn’t been back to pro football’s showcase game in 19 years.
Oakland’s aging warriors did little or worse.
Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, the 40- and 36-year-old wide receivers, were all but invisible.
Rice, who has a reception in every game he’s played since 1985, didn’t have his first until 3:30 was left in the third quarter Sunday and the Raiders trailed by 31 points.
That came just before Gannon’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Porter gave the Raiders’ their first TD. They got their second just 44 seconds into the fourth quarter when Tim Johnson blocked a Tom Tupa punt and Eric Johnson caught it in the air and took it in.
But even those TDs didn’t produce what they could have because the Raiders twice missed 2-point conversion attempts.
Tampa Bay started badly but soon took control and led 20-3 at halftime on a 2-yard touchdown run by Alstott and a 5-yard TD pass to McCardell. The defense held the Raiders’ top-ranked offense to just three first downs at intermission.
But the Raiders struck the first blow.
On the opening series, Johnson was hit by Regan Upshaw (news) as he threw toward an open McCardell, and Charles Woodson (news) intercepted to give the Raiders the ball at the Tampa Bay 28. But Oakland got only one first down and had to settle for Sebastian Janikowski’s 40-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
The Bucs came right back to tie it on Martin Gramatica (news)’s 31-yarder. It was set up by two 23-yard plays, a pass from Johnson to Joe Jurevicius and a sweep by Pittman.
Jackson’s first interception for Tampa Bay set up the next score: Gramatica’s 43-yard field goal early in the second quarter to give the Bucs a 6-3 lead.
Jackson got another interception on the Raiders’ next possession, returning it 23 yards to the Raiders 45. Tampa Bay couldn’t move and Tom Tupa had to punt.
But the Tampa Bay defense held the Raiders to three downs and out, and the Bucs finally broke through to take a 13-3 lead.
First Karl Williams returned Shane Lechler’s punt 25 yards to the Oakland 27, then Pittman had runs of 6 and 21 yards to give Tampa Bay a first down at the 2. On the second play, Alstott went in for the game’s first TD with 6:24 left in the half.
The Bucs made it 20-3 at halftime on a 77-yard, 10-play drive, which was aided by three Oakland penalties and capped by a quick out to McCardell on first down from the 5.