Originally created 11/27/01

MNF: Bucs 24, Rams 17



ST. LOUIS -- Warren Sapp slowed up what he called "the greatest show on turf" just in time to keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers alive in the playoff race.

The Bucs upset the St. Louis Rams 24-17 Monday night as the 300-pound defensive tackle, who had just three sacks coming into the game, added two more against Kurt Warner, forced a fumble and spent much of the game in the St. Louis backfield.

Mike Alstott ran for touchdowns of 7 and 8 yards and Warrick Dunn scored from 21 yards out early in the fourth quarter to break a 17-all tie.

Two late interceptions sealed the win and kept the Bucs (5-5) in the NFC playoff race. The loss dropped St. Louis (8-2) into a tie for first in the NFC West with San Francisco.

But the win didn't come easy.

With 6:30 left, the Bucs had a fourth-and-inches at the St. Louis 10 following a blocked punt by Ronde Barber. Instead of trying a field goal that would have given them a 10-point lead, they went for it and got the first down.

But three plays later, Brian Young intercepted Brad Johnson's pass and the Rams reached the Bucs 42 before Donnie Abraham intercepted Warner's fourth-down pass to quell that threat.

The Rams got the ball back with 2:35 left, but John Lynch intercepted Warner's first pass to clinch the game.

The Rams, who beat Tampa Bay 11-6 here in the NFC title game two seasons ago and lost 38-35 in Tampa last season, moved up and down the field all night but managed just one TD. They fumbled three times and took over the NFL lead in turnovers with 32.

Sapp came into the game with just three sacks in nine games. Last season, he had 16 1/2 and his 29 in the 1999 and 2000 seasons led the NFL over that period.

But on this night, he lived up to his reputation, even forcing Frank Garcia, who had started at left guard for the injured Tom Nutten, out of the game. Nutten, who had a high ankle sprain, returned in the third quarter and limped off again in the fourth.

The Bucs led 10-9 at halftime although they were outgained 210-95.

Jeff Wilkins' 44-yard field goal on the opening drive gave the Rams a 3-0 lead, but only after Warner threw three straight incomplete passes, missing a wide-open Isaac Bruce in the end zone on first down.

Alstott's 7-yard run 1:41 into the second period gave the Bucs a 7-3 lead. It came at the end of a 54-yard drive that began when Sapp recovered a fumble by Bruce.

Wilkins made it 7-6 with a 42-yard field goal 5 minutes before halftime. But Tampa Bay got the 3 points back on Martin Gramatica's 36-yarder after Sapp sacked Warner, forcing a fumble that Marcus Jones recovered at the St. Louis 22.

Wilkins returned the favor again with as 24-yarder on the final play of the half.

Then the Bucs went 68 yards on 11 plays to open the second half, with Alstott zigzagging in from 8 yards out to make it 17-9.

The Rams drove right back, 85 yards in 12 plays to score on a 1-yard fourth down pass from Warner to rookie tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. Faulk then ran in for a 2-point conversion to tie the game at 17.

Then Tampa Bay went 90 yards in 9 plays, with Dunn running it in from 21 yards out.