It was enough to beat New Orleans.
The Bucs (6-7) scored two touchdowns in the final 1:25 of the first half, including a 1-yard reception by Sapp, to defeat the Saints 14-7 on Sunday.
"I lost it in the lights," Sapp joked as the Buccaneers celebrated the victory. "But if it hits your hands, you've got to catch it."
Losers of four of their last five, the defending Super Bowl champions need to win all their games to just finish above .500. They were determined to start a run by beating the Saints (6-7), who had beaten them in their last three meetings.
"This was self-evaluation time," Sapp said. "You have to look in the mirror. We had to have this one. This team's just owned us."
Both teams clung to slim playoff hopes, but needed to win the final four games to have a chance.
Sapp taunted Saints running back Deuce McAllister every time he stopped him. Sapp and his teammates also jeered at the New Orleans players on the sidelines. The Bucs drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct in the first quarter for remarks made to the Saints.
"We are all grown men playing an emotional game," was all Sapp had to say about the gibes.
Tampa Bay swarmed McAllister every time he got the ball. The Bucs held McAllister to 69 yards rushing, snapping his nine-game streak of gaining 100 yards or more.
"They put eight, nine in the box," McAllister said. "Linebackers playing a little deeper to definitely take away the cutback run. It was a pretty good scheme, but you still had to make plays, just keep hammering away. We just got down and had to throw the ball more than we would like."
New Orleans looked as if it would go up 14-0 at the half. But Joe Horn, who had nine receptions for 118 yards, dropped a pass at the Tampa Bay goal line. On the next play, Brooks dropped the ball as he drew his arm back to pass. Jermaine Phillips picked it up and got to the New Orleans 37.
"In a minute-forty we had a dropped touchdown, two fumbles, a blocked punt, two penalties, and missed tackles for a touchdown," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "Twenty-eight minutes before that we played good football."
Then Tampa Bay's David Gibson blocked a Saints punt with 28 seconds remaining and Ronde Barber scooped it up and ran to the 1. Johnson hit Sapp for the TD and the Buccaneers took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
"There is no better feeling than winning, no worse than losing," Johnson said. "It feels great to work hard all week, then find a way to win, and we did."
Although New Orleans scored only one touchdown, the Saints dominated the first half, holding the ball for 20:02 to Tampa Bay's 9:58, outgaining the Bucs 216 yards to 113.
In the second half, neither team did much, and the Saints' December woes continued. The past two Decembers, the Saints finished 0-4 in 2001 and 0-3 last year.
Brooks completed 20 of 30 attempts for 238 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked seven times and fumbled four times.
Johnson was 20-for-34 for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
The fans were so frustrated that after former LSU defensive lineman Anthony McFarland recovered a fumble in the third quarter, they chanted, "L-S-U! L-S-U! L-S-U," perhaps finding solace in the Tigers' victory in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
- Horn has caught at least one pass in 75 straight games, 61 with the Saints and 14 with Kansas City in 2000.
- Tampa Bay's defense has had a takeaway in 54 consecutive games, longest current streak in the NFL.
- Sapp's 1-yard touchdown reception was the second of the year for the 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle; he also caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Johnson against Atlanta.
- Injuries: Tampa Bay, S David Gibson (sprained left knee), Sapp (sprained left ankle); New Orleans, LB James Allen (sprained left knee), OL LeCharles Bentley (sprained left knee).
The Associated Press News Service
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