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Bucs beat Vikings 24-13 with defense

MINNEAPOLIS (Sept. 11, 2005) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers figured out how to finish a game, an instinct they've been lacking the past two seasons. That vicious, ball-hawking defense was back in familiar form, too, as Daunte Culpepper and the Minnesota Vikings found out.

The Buccaneers forced five turnovers -- including two interceptions by Brian Kelly -- and pulled out a scrappy season-opening 24-13 victory against the Vikings.

"That's the type of thing we can do on defense," Simeon Rice said. "We want to do something special."

Culpepper lost two fumbles and suffered three INTs, the second one glancing off Moe Williams' hands and into Kelly's arms at the Tampa Bay 6-yard line with 1:45 left and Minnesota trailing by four.

Tight end Alex Smith caught two touchdown passes and fellow rookie "Cadillac" Carnell Williams finished with 148 yards on 27 carries, including a 71-yard touchdown run with 1:23 remaining that sealed it.

"I kept telling guys, 'I'm going to break 'em,' " Williams said.

After winning the Super Bowl in the 2002-03 season, the Bucs went 12-20 over the past two season -- losing 15 of those by one touchdown or less. But finally, the tide turned their way in the fourth quarter.

"If that's an evaluation of what we're capable of doing," coach Jon Gruden said, "that's a good sign."

Coming off a career-best season, Culpepper looked more like a rookie than a three-time Pro Bowl pick. He finished 22-for-33 for 233 yards, failing to throw a TD pass for the first time in 22 games.

The Vikings' only touchdown came from new free safety Darren Sharper on an 88-yard interception return in the first quarter.

"When things could go bad, it went bad," Culpepper said. "It was almost like a bad episode of 'The Twilight Zone."'

Whether it was the play calling with new offensive coordinator Steve Loney, the nonexistent running game (16 carries for 26 yards) or steady pressure on Culpepper, the Vikings looked as lousy on offense as they had in some time.

"I didn't like the way we weren't paying attention to detail at the end of the game like I know we can and I know we should," Culpepper said.

Of course standout receiver Randy Moss was missing, too, after the trade that shipped him to Oakland. And while the core of the Bucs' defense -- Rice, Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ronde Barber -- are all 30 years or older, it remains one of the league's best.

Barber was asked if it was realistic to expect them to keep Minnesota from scoring an offensive TD.

"To us? Yeah," he said. "Not to anybody outside of our locker room. Regardless of what we did last year, our standards are still high."

At least Minnesota's special teams were working: Rookie Chris Kluwe boomed four punts for an average of 54.3 yards, and new kicker Paul Edinger nailed field goals of 53 and 22 yards.

Trailing 17-13, the Vikings got the ball at their own 10 with 4:11 to go. Using two catches by Nate Burleson and two penalties by the Bucs, they drove 78 yards in a little more than 2 minutes. But Kelly's interception was the end of that.

"We know the weapons they have on offense," Kelly said. "To be able to hold them to not many points, we feel proud about that."

Brian Griese wasn't great, either, but he led Tampa Bay on two long touchdown drives in the second quarter to take a 17-7 halftime lead. He finished 18-for-29 for 213 yards with two TDs and two INTs.

Frustrated by several seasons of defensive failure, the Vikings spent plenty of money on upgrades for that side of the ball. The new acquisitions proved their worth in the first half: Sharper had a handful of jarring hits in addition to his touchdown return, cornerback Fred Smoot picked off a pass and nose tackle Pat Williams had a sack.

"There will be some things, believe it or not, when we look at the tape, that will be encouraging," coach Mike Tice said. "Then there will be a lot of things that weren't encouraging."

Most of those came on offense in the first half, when Minnesota's five possessions went like this: turnover, turnover, turnover, three-and-out, three-and-out.

Former Vikings defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who signed with the Bucs this summer, recovered a fumble to end one of those.

"Take the head off the chicken, and it runs around," Hovan said. "The defense has been doing that way before I got here. It's just a staple. You say, 'Tampa,' and you think of defense."

GAME NOTES:

Sharper has returned three consecutive interceptions for touchdowns, the first two for Green Bay last year. Joey Galloway caught five passes for 97 yards for Tampa Bay. The Vikings released WR Koren Robinson to avoid guaranteeing his full base salary for the season, but they're expected to re-sign him next week. Quarles forced two fumbles and had a team-high seven tackles. Minnesota's Jermaine Wiggins had a pair of touchdown receptions called back by penalties in the second half.

AP NEWS The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2005, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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