Few games in the history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can match the emotion, intensity and pure excitement of the December 18th, 2000 clash between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the defending Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams.
It was a revenge game, a crucial battle with significant playoff implications and it was televised in front of a national audience for the entire country to see.
To the astonishment and glee of all who watched the game, it had amazing Houdini-like plays by two teams that had a galaxy of superstars on each side of the football.
Of course it would come down to a final drive. It had to, didn't it?
Re-live the Monday Night Football classic after the jump!
Coming off their clash in the 1999 NFC Championship game, this was one of the most anticipated matchups when the 2000 Monday Night Football schedule was released.
In that '99 championship game, the Rams had slipped by the Bucs, beating them at their own game of defensive "Buc Ball", 11-6.
The Champs were reeling, dropping four of their last six games after a 7-1 start. The Bucs were surging after a slow 3-4 start, matching the Rams 9-5 record as they moved into the pivotal week 16 match up.
The winner of this matchup punched their ticket to the post season. The loser would face a do or die final week of the season.
It started off well for the Bucs. On the Rams first series, St. Louis QB Kurt Warner was intercepted by Ronde Barber, setting up the Bucs in point blank range at the Rams' 20 yard line.
In typical '00 Bucs fashion, Tampa Bay would go three and out, settling for a 35 yard Martin Gramatica field goal.
Midway through the first quarter, St. Louis would finally break through the tough Bucs defense with a 2 yard run by Marshall Faulk, capping a 9 play 76 yard drive.
The Bucs would answer on their next drive, moving 82 yards in 9 plays while bleeding 5:45 off the clock. Shaun King connected on two big passes to Keyshawn Johnson, setting up Dunn for a 2 yard score and giving Tampa Bay a 10-7 edge.
Back came the Rams, using two big passes from Warner to Torry Holt and Rickey Proehl moving inside the Bucs 20 yard line. Faulk then eluded defenders, breaking for a 16 yard touchdown run to put the Rams back up 14-10 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half.
Shaun King caught fire for Tampa Bay, as his passing drove the Bucs down the field in consecutive drives, connecting with Keyshawn twice in the end zone for scores as the Bucs surged back ahead and took a comfortable 24-14 lead into halftime.
King had a stellar half, completing 11 of 16 passes for 151 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 pick. The All-Pro Kurt Warner actually had 30 yards less. The Bucs had outgained the high flying Rams 212-138 through two quarters of play.
Tampa Bay would open the third quarter having to punt twice, while the first series the Rams had the ball in the second half, Warner was intercepted by safety Damien Robinson.
The second time St. Louis had the football would be a bit different. Warner hit Faulk on a 27 yard touchdown pass that capped a 63 yard, 7 play drive and pulled the Rams within 3 points, 24-21.
The Bucs answered immediately following a 41 yard kickoff return by Karl Williams. Warrick Dunn cracked off a lightning strike, breaking a 52 yard run for a touchdown, putting Tampa Bay back up 31-21 on the final play of the third quarter.
The Rams weren't a team that were outscored that often. In the fourth quarter, they showed why.
Warner passed St. Louis down to the Tampa Bay 9 yard line where Marshall Faulk would take it in for his fourth touchdown of the game, pulling St. Louis within 3 at 31-28.
The Bucs again began to march back down the field on the Rams' beleaguered defense, driving to the Rams 1 yard line. Instead of plunging it in with Mike Alstott, Tampa Bay got cute, going play action. King fired a quick pass toward Keyshawn but CB Dexter McCleon picked it off for a touchback.
After a quick pass for eight yards, Warner hit Torry Holt for a dazzling 72 yard touchdown.
It was a Rams type game and they just displayed to the Bucs and the world why they were called the Greatest Show on Turf.
Down 35-31 with just 2:22 left in the game, King began to move the Bucs down the field. Facing 2nd and 10 from their own 35, Tampa Bay pitched outside to Warrick Dunn and the Rams defense converged. Dunn danced, moving backward and giving up 14 yards of real estate before the defense had him cornered. Out of the corner of his eye, Dunn spotted King uncovered and lateraled the football to the quarterback. King raced down the sideline, tip-toeing for 29 yards. An unnecessary roughness penalty would add another 15 yrds, putting Tampa Bay at the St. Louis 35.
"All I heard was King yelling, "Dunn! Dunn! Dunn!' It was unbelievable," Bucs guard Frank Middleton had said.
Yet, the Bucs needed a touchdown and were running out of time to get it.
With 1:16 left in the ballgame, Tampa Bay faced 4th and 4 at the St. Louis 28. With visions of the infamous Bert Emanuel play dancing in his head, King took the snap, looked to the left - nothing there, looked to the right nothing there then tucked it under, running 6 yards for a first down and getting out of bounds to stop the clock.
King wasn't finished yet, hitting Reidel Anthony for a 22 yard gain as the Rams, perhaps reliving their Super Bowl glory, stopped the Bucs' wide out one yard shy of paydirt.
This time, though, the Bucs had 0:56 left to work with.
After a potential game winning touchdown pass was dropped by TE Dave Moore, Dunn got the call and cashed in by leaping into the end zone to put his Bucs up 38-35 with 0:53 left in the ballgame.
Still, no lead was ever safe with the Rams - as the Bucs had already found out. It wasn't until John Lynch intercepted Warner at midfield that victory - and the playoffs - were assured.
The Bucs had just beaten the Super Bowl champs in one of the most memorable games in Buccaneer history.
St. Louis Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 12/18/00 MNF "Mic'd Up" Highlights (via barksmatt)