By Bucs Nation
It was the tipping point of the 2002 season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs were coming off a tough road loss to divisional rival New Orleans, keeping the Saints division hopes alive thanks to a sweep of Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the Falcons and the human video game that was Michael Vick were coming to town. The Falcons had reeled off a 7-0-1 run and most NFL observers expected Vick to continue to dazzle and delight with his magician-like scrambling ability.
With three teams competing for the lead in the newly born NFC South, it was the defense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who would dazzle on this day.
The Bucs dominated Vick and the Falcons, shocking pundits and firmly establishing their grip on the NFC South crown.
This Bucs team was no group of paper champions who wilt under the bright lights of a big game.
The papers talked about it all week. How would the Bucs find a way to stop Mike Vick? Bucs coach Jon Gruden called him "Starship 7" because his play was out of this world.
The answer was simple - Derrick Brooks. The Bucs' Defensive mastermind Monte Kiffin had Brooks spy Vick the entire ballgame. When Vick scrambled - there was Brooks. When he looked to pop out of the pocket, Brooks was there. When he tried to set up to pass, Brooks was all over him.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense, maligned for their slow start to the season, was beginning to click. Brad Johnson threw his team record 22nd touchdown pass by throwing a pair of first half scores to Joe Jurevicius and two more to Keenan McCardell.
The Bucs built a 21-3 half-time lead.
Vick and the Falcons offense was completely stymied. Three three and outs, another punt, an interception and a field goal would be the fruit of their first half work.
It wouldn't improve much in the second half.
The Bucs offense owned the football in the third quarter, compiling 11 minutes of time of possession under the running of Mike Alstott and Michael Pittman. Vick had the ball twice the entire quarter, both possessions going for a 3 and out.
Tampa Bay would grind out two scoring drives (both Martin Gramatica field goals) to balloon their lead to 27-3 heading into the fourth quarter.
Vick's Falcons finally breeched the Bucs' endzone with 11:46 left to play as Vick completed an 8 play 86 yard drive with a five yard touchdown to Algae Crumpler.
The Bucs would answer on the very next drive, as Alstott and Pittman pounded the Bucs down to the Atlanta 27 yard line and Brad Johnson finished it off with his fourth touchdown pass of the day, hitting Keenan McCardell for a 27 yard score.
With 8:39 left in the ball game, the message had been sent. Tampa Bay 34, Atlanta 10.
In the end, Vick's numbers were staggeringly normal. The man some called Superman completed 12 of 25 passes for 125 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Vick rushed 6 times for just 9 yards and was sacked once.
Tampa Bay's defense allowed just two drives that amassed more than 17 yards the entire ballgame.
"We didn't put a cape on his back," Bucs Pro Bowl DE Simeon Rice said after the ballgame, "The rest of the world did. We just took it off him."
Meanwhile, the Bucs' offense churned up 421 yards of total offense and seemed to be rounding into the unit everyone envisioned when Chucky took the reigns.
While the rest of the league was slow on the take, Michael Vick was made a believer
"I've never run up against a team like that," Vick said.
The Bucs would go on to finish 12-4, winning the NFC South by 2 1/2 games over Atlanta, who won just once more down the stretch.
The stage was set for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run at eternity.