Loose footballs on the ground? Passes dangling in the air? The o
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Loose footballs on the ground? Passes dangling in the air? The opportunistic Minnesota Vikings think they have a right to every one of them.
It’s an attitude that’s helped Dennis Green’s team to the top of the NFC Central Division standings.
″We get to the point where we think the ball is ours,″ Green said Sunday after the Vikings defense scored two touchdowns for the second week in a row to lead a 35-7 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
″It was a good solid game by our guys. We jumped on them fast. We set the tempo on both sides of the ball.″
Rich Gannon directed touchdown drives of 67, 80 and 90 yards, and Carlos Jenkins and Chris Doleman scored for the defense, which gave up 354 yards but kept the Bucs from scoring until just 4:33 remained.
The victory was the sixth in the last seven games for the first-place Vikings (7-2), who completed a sweep of the season series between the division rivals. Tampa Bay (3-6) has lost five straight after getting off to its best start in 12 years.
″Our objective was winning the first game of the second half (of the season). That’s why it was a big game for us,″ said Green.
″The next thing is the idea that you’ve got to get them on the road. It makes it a lot easier as you start marching where you want to be.″
Jenkins picked up a fumble, caused by Al Noga’s sack of Steve DeBerg, and ran 22 yards for a first quarter score. The Bucs quarterback put a backhand flip up for grabs in the second period, trying to avoid another Noga sack, and Doleman caught it and ran 27 yards for a 28-0 halftime lead.
The defense also scored twice in last week’s 38-10 victory over the Chicago Bears. Jenkins scored one of those TDs, and was in the right place at the right time against the Bucs, too.
″It’s money in the bank for you when you can force turnovers,″ said Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy. ″That’s something we look to do every week, and we’ve got the players who can do that.″
Tampa Bay has been outscored 73-14 in its last two home games. DeBerg was making his second straight start in place of Vinny Testaverde, who was benched after a 38-7 loss to the Detroit Lions two weeks ago.
Bucs coach Sam Wyche had considered Sunday crucial to the Bucs’ hopes of making the playoffs. Since starting 2-0 for the first time since 1980, Tampa Bay has lost six of seven games.
″These are tough times,″ said Wyche. ″Teams go through all kinds of cycles, and we’re going through one that will test our grit.
″It looks like we’re retreating, but we’re not,″ Wyche added. ″We’re not ready to throw the towel in, but we know where we are. We have to be realistic in our thinking about the playoffs.″
Roger Craig scored on runs of 2 and 5 yards and Anthony Carter ran 10 yards for the other TD Gannon produced while completing 16 of 21 passes for 168 yards. The Vikings quarterback threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.
The Bucs actually won the game statistically, making 24 first downs to Minnesota’s 22 and outgaining the Vikings 354 yards to 296. Tampa Bay only punted once, but three possessions ended on turnovers, Ken Willis missed two field goals and DeBerg was 0 for 3 on fourth-down conversions in the second half.
″We are not making the routine plays, much less the big plays,″ said Bucs running back Reggie Cobb. ″Minnesota made those big plays and made things happen.
″If we play our best game and they play their best game, I don’t know what would have happened,″ Cobb added. ″But we didn’t play our best.″
DeBerg finished 28 of 42 passing for 239 yards with two interceptions. The Bucs are 0-11 in games Testaverde hasn’t started in the last five years, and there no immediate indication from Wyche who will be his quarterback next week against Chicago.
″I want to play,″ Testaverde said, ″but the final decision is up to Sam.″