PHILADELPHIA -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can forget about the cold.
They're going to San Diego for the Super Bowl.
|Ronde Barber scores the clinching TD on a 92-yard interception return. (AP)|
Tampa Bay advanced to its first NFL title game by overcoming all sorts of history -- three consecutive losses at Veterans Stadium without an offensive touchdown; only one victory ever in temperatures under 40; and the hostile fans and slippery turf in the Vet's final NFL game.
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.
"We had a lot of confidence," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, in his first season with the team. "We won 13 games. We didn't feel we played our best earlier in Philadelphia. We just have to win one more game."
Gruden and the Bucs will play next Sunday against his old team, the Oakland Raiders, who beat the Tennessee Titans 41-24 in the AFC Championship game.
"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.
|Mike Alstott celebrates a TD with Warren Sapp, who was a tight end on the play. (AP)|
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.
That was enough to send a franchise with one of the NFL's most dismal histories to pro football's ultimate game. From 1983-96, the Bucs 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.
The chill didn't bother them Sunday, nor did the surroundings.
Tampa Bay silenced the Vet crowd with that long first-quarter drive. By game's end, the notoriously rowdy, fickle Philly fans were booing every incomplete pass by McNabb.
Mitchell's return of the opening kickoff and Duce Staley's 20-yard touchdown run two plays later gave the Eagles a 7-0 lead 52 seconds into the game. But that was the high point for Philadelphia.
Tampa Bay got three points back on its first possession on Gramatica's 48-yard field goal.
Then, after Lee Johnson's punt pushed them back to their own 4-yard line, the Bucs went on their 96-yard drive to take a 10-7 lead. It was their first offensive touchdown in four games in Philadelphia in the past three seasons.
The key play came on third-and-2 from the 24, when Brad Johnson found Jurevicius on a crossing route 15 yards downfield.
Jurevicius, who rejoined the team Saturday after going home for the premature birth of his son, broke away from Barry Gardner and ran to the Eagles 5-yard line.
Two plays later, Alstott went in from a yard out.
"I'm sitting on top of the world right now," Jurevicius said. "It's been a roller coaster of emotions all week, but my family needed me to do this. The way things are going, I think my son might be up walking now."
David Akers' 30-yard field goal midway through the second quarter tied the game at 10.
But the Bucs took the ensuing kickoff and went 80 yards in 12 plays, scoring from 9 yards out when Johnson (Brad) found Johnson (Keyshawn) just over the goal line on a third-down play.
The Eagles reached the Tampa Bay 24 in the final minute of the half, but McNabb was sacked by his old high school teammate, Rice, who knocked the ball loose and recovered the fumble.
The same thing happened on the Eagles' first possession of the third quarter, Barber knocking the ball loose on a corner blitz and Ellis Wyms recovering at the Philadelphia 47.
Gramatica added a 27-yard field goal with 1:02 left in the third quarter to make it 20-10 as the Eagles continued to have trouble moving the ball.
The Associated Press News Service
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