TAMPA, Fla. -- Finally, a breakout game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense.
Brad Johnson threw for 313 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, and the Bucs played had their best game on offense for first-year coach Jon Gruden in Sunday's 38-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
|Bucs running back Aaron Stecker is caught by Tyrone Carter after a 60-yard second-quarter run. (AP)|
Karl Williams, Rickey Dudley and Mike Alstott also had touchdown catches for the Bucs (7-2), who matched the 1979 team for the best nine-game start in team history.
Minnesota (2-6) has lost 15 consecutive road games, including the playoffs. The Vikings are 0-5 all-time at Raymond James Stadium, and they've been outscored 120-51 in their past three visits to Tampa.
"Fifteen in a row, it's tough," said Vikings coach Mike Tice, who changed the team's travel routine -- arriving in Florida a day earlier than usual -- in hopes of ending the skid.
"We had plenty of meetings, plenty of time for football, plenty of time together. I felt like it would give them a training-camp weekend, where they could think about nothing but the game," Tice said. "Obviously, it helped some of us. It didn't help all of us."
Brad Johnson, returning after missing a game because of a fractured left rib, completed 19 of 31 passes and didn't throw an interception. Tampa Bay's offensive line, a weakness despite the Bucs' record, didn't allow a sack.
The Bucs paid a hefty price (four high draft picks, $8 million cash) to pry Gruden away from the Oakland Raiders in hopes that the NFL's youngest head coach could use his skill at assembling an offense to make the defense-minded Bucs into championship contenders.
But until Sunday, Tampa Bay had been winning mostly because of that same defense, which had allowed just six touchdowns and scored five TDs on its own. Against the Vikings, who started the day ranked 31st in pass defense and 28th overall, the Bucs gained a season-high 446 yards and only punted twice.
"You play to win, you play to have success," Brad Johnson said. "This is what we see in practice all the time."
Minnesota, who has the league's worst turnover ratio, fumbled the opening kickoff and went downhill from there. The Vikings also hurt themselves with penalties, including a first-quarter offensive holding call against guard Corbin Lacina that nullified Daunte Culpepper's 40-yard touchdown pass to Moss.
In all, the Bucs forced three turnovers and sacked Culpepper three times.
"There ain't no excuses. The coaches prepare us well throughout the week," Moss said. "I just can't see how we can play well at home against a good team like Chicago, and then come down here to Tampa and fold under pressure. I don't understand that."
The Vikings scored on Michael Bennett's 85-yard run in the second quarter -- the longest in team history -- and also got a pair of 1-yard TD runs from Moe Williams. Culpepper completed 19 of 30 passes for 231 yards. Two passes were intercepted, one of them by Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp after the Vikings -- trailing 31-17 -- recovered an onside kick.
"I was trying to throw the ball and not take a sack," Culpepper said. "I probably should've taken a sack right there, but I'm not the type that says one play wins or loses a game."
A week after failing to get into the end zone in a 12-9 victory over Carolina, the Bucs scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions to build a 24-0 lead. The offense also got into field-goal range on its fifth possession, but Martin Gramatica's 40-yard attempt sailed wide left.
After Bennett's long TD run, Minnesota added Gary Anderson's 26-yard field goal after Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber was penalized for unnecessary roughness on what would have been the last play of the first half.
Bennett finished with 114 yards on 10 carries. Moss had four receptions for 41 yards.
- Bennett's 85-yard run beat the franchise record of 80 yards, set by Clinton Jones against the Bears on Nov. 2, 1969.
- Aaron Stecker led Tampa Bay in rushing with 59 yards on his only carry. Alstott had 55 yards on 26 carries.
- Lacina and Vikings WR Derrick Alexander both left the game in the second quarter with knee sprains and did not return.
The Associated Press News Service
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