Buccaneers silence Vet by grounding Eagles
Tampa Bay's defense stiffened after Philadelphia's only touchdown came in the first minute.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers dismissed all of it: the 26-degree weather, hostile Veterans Stadium and an inability to win a road playoff game.
They simply rolled up their sleeves and put their league-leading defense to work against Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, the Bucs are going to sunny San Diego for their first Super Bowl, a long, sad history behind them. After being stunned by a Philadelphia touchdown in the first minute of the NFC Championship game Sunday, the Bucs took over to beat the Eagles 27-10.
"Nobody really expected us to win this game," said Tampa Bay coach John Gruden, in his first year with the team. "That fueled our enthusiasm to play."
The Bucs had lost three consecutive games at Veterans Stadium, unable to score even one offensive touchdown. They had only one victory ever in temperatures under 40. They were 0-6 in postseason road games.
And they had to face some of the league's toughest fans on slippery turf in the Vet's final NFL game.
They were able to erase the past -- a dismal 20 years as the league's worst franchise that only changed direction when they discarded the orange jerseys they had worn from their inception in 1976-97. Since then, Tampa Bay has missed the playoffs just once.
"Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp and myself have been here the longest," safety and fellow Pro Bowler John Lynch said. "We wore the orange. We suffered through some tough years. We worked so hard for this opportunity but we told each other we're not done yet."
After the Eagles' early flurry, sparked by Brian Mitchell's 70-yard return of the opening kickoff, it was all Tampa Bay. The Bucs led 17-10 at halftime and stifled Philadelphia after intermission.
"One more to go," said Warren Sapp, the talkative Tampa Bay defensive tackle. "We ain't going for no vacation."
Mike Alstott was one of several Bucs wearing short sleeves, almost in defiance of the 26-degree cold at kickoff. The wind chill was 16.
Alstott scored on a 1-yard run at the end of a 96-yard drive in the first quarter that was highlighted by Joe Jurevicius' 71-yard catch-and-run.
Brad Johnson threw a 9-yard TD pass to Keyshawn Johnson in the second quarter, and Ronde Barber's 92-yard interception return with 3:12 left in the game clinched it after the Eagles had driven 73 yards to the Bucs 10. Martin Gramatica kicked two field goals.
"They were the better team," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "They got after us. We didn't answer the bell on a few things.
"It's very disappointing. You come this far, 20-some odd weeks of football. You put yourself in position to strike for the Super Bowl and you lose."
Brad Johnson finished 20-of-33 for 259 yards against a Philadelphia secondary with three Pro Bowl selections, allowing the Bucs to control the ball and the clock, especially in the first half.
The defense, meanwhile, totally controlled McNabb, who finished 26-of-49 for 243 yards in just his second game back after missing six games with a broken right ankle. Simeon Rice and Barber had sacks that ended potential rallies.
"We didn't want to give up the big play," Sapp said. (They didn't -- Mitchell's return was against the special teams.)
"If we could do that, we'd have a real good chance of winning."
The Bucs started playing in 1976, lost their first 26 games, then made a brief run at the playoffs. Then, from 1983-96, they did not have a winning season and lost 10 or more games in 13 of those 14 seasons.
Until Dec. 29, when they beat the woeful Chicago Bears in temperatures in the 30s in Champaign, Ill., the Bucs were 0-21 when it was colder than 40.
And the past two years, they had been bounced from the playoffs in Philadelphia, where they also lost in October.