CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers get a mighty nice reward for finally winning a game in cold weather: A first-round bye, and a week to recuperate in the Florida sun.
|Martin Gramatica's five field goals are all Tampa Bay needs for a win in Champaign.(AP)|
The Bucs secured the No. 2 seed in the NFC with their franchise-best 12th victory, giving them a bye next weekend and a home game in the second round.
"How about that? That's really something," coach Jon Gruden said. "A milestone tonight, winning 12 games, first time we've been able to do that. We made sure the thermometer was accurate and we accomplished something tonight. Hopefully we can put some of those streaks to end and maybe start some new cold weather streaks."
The warm-blooded Bucs had a long record of ineptness in the cold, losing 21 straight when the temperature was 40 degrees or below. But they could have passed for penguins Sunday, with the temperature dipping into the low 30s as the night went on and the southeast wind making it feel even chillier.
"I'm a 30-year Florida boy. I hate this stuff," tackle Warren Sapp said. "It'll always be brought up, but at least we got it off our resume."
The Buccaneers (12-4) had already locked up the NFC South title. But after losing last Monday night to Pittsburgh, they needed help from the New York Jets to get the first-round bye.
The Jets did their part with a 42-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers about two hours before the Bucs and Bears (4-12) kicked off. The Bucs were well aware of the outcome of that game - the end played on the Jumbotron at Memorial Stadium - and took the field knowing their fate was in their hands.
"The situation we let get away from us Monday was put right back into our laps. You can't ask for anything better than that," Sapp said. "We had the table set for us with a nine-course meal. All we had to do was sit down and eat. We ate."
Feasted is more like it. Tampa Bay's offense was hardly impressive, with Rob Johnson getting sacked five times -- four times in the first half -- and mustering only 134 yards.
But the defense more than made up for the offense, abusing Bears third-string quarterback Henry Burris, who was making his first NFL start because of injuries to Chris Chandler and Jim Miller.
Tampa Bay intercepted Burris four times, setting up four of Gramatica's five field goals.
Just how ferocious were the Bucs? Chicago's first five plays in the fourth quarter were passes, and Tampa Bay picked off three of them. Burris went just 7-of-19 for 78 yards, ending up with a dismal 10.3 quarterback rating.
The Bucs lead the NFL with 31 interceptions, and extended their streak of games with at least one takeaway to 41. It was the second shutout of the season for the NFL's stingiest defense, which has allowed just 196 points.
"This loss hurt," Burris said. "When you're shedding your blood, sweat and tears, to come out with a loss really hurts. This is something that will burn in my body until I take my next snap."
Johnson was making just his second start of the season, playing in place of Brad Johnson, who has a severe back contusion. And the rust certainly showed, with the Bucs offense moving in fits and starts.
"We were playing for everything and they weren't playing for anything, so they were loose and doing a lot of crazy stuff out there," Johnson said. "It was one of those games you knew they wouldn't score a lot, you just didn't want to turn the ball over."
They finally got something going in the second quarter, marching 48 yards to the Chicago 12. But Johnson, under heavy pressure from Rosevelt Colvin, threw the ball away into the end zone on third-and-3.
Gramatica bailed him out, splitting the uprights with a 30-yard field goal to give Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead with 6:48 to play in the first half.
Starting from their own 20, the Bears looked like they might cause some problems when Burris connected with John Gilmore on a 30-yard heave - the longest offensive play of the first half for either team. Adrian Peterson then broke off a 14-yard run, bringing the Bears to the Bucs 25.
But Derrick Brooks stepped in front of Marty Booker and picked off the ball. He returned the interception 44 yards to the Chicago 34. Four plays later, Gramatica made a 32-yard field goal to give the Buccaneers a 6-0 lead, and the Bears never threatened again.
"We're really happy, obviously proud of our team to win a game in cold weather a game we had to have that had serious ramifications," Gruden said. "We needed the bye week and we wanted it."
- Tampa Bay's 12 wins tops its previous record of 11, set in 1999.
- The Bucs again denied reports that quarterback Brad Johnson has a fractured vertebrae in his back, saying it's a severe contusion. "There is a lot of people reporting a lot of things. And not a lot of these reports are coming from our training staff and medical people," Gruden said. "Those are false and inaccurate." Johnson said he plans to practice this week.
The Associated Press News Service
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