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Bucs' D proves its mettle

All last week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were reminded of how the upcoming opponent, the Buffalo Bills, had been one of the best defenses in the NFL the last couple seasons.

"Pregame talk is one thing," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Postgame talk is what really matters."

On Sunday, the Bucs reminded the Bills that they've been playing defense in these parts for, oh, about a decade.

"I don't think they needed any motivation," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said after watching his defense stifle the Bills in a 19-3 beat-down at Raymond James Stadium. "They are so motivated and have as much pride as anybody in pro football."

He paused. Then shrugged.

"Deep down, maybe they felt a little slighted," he said.

The Bucs played like they had something to prove, holding the Bills to just 147 total yards -- only 47 on the ground -- and keeping the opportunistic Buffalo offense out of the end zone for the first time in eight games, dating to a 29-6 defeat at New England last Nov. 14. The Bucs, in fact, have not allowed a touchdown on defense in two games this season, having forced five turnovers in last weekend's 24-13 victory at Minnesota.

Look no further for the reason why Tampa Bay is 2-0 for the first time since the 2000 season, and just the sixth time in the franchise's 30-year history.

"There were a lot of people who two weeks ago said we might not win two games this year," Gruden said.

After winning the Super Bowl in January 2003, the Bucs went a combined 12-20 the last two seasons, including a miserable 5-11 record in '04 that marked the team's worst in 11 years. With a defense that was aging and an offense that was rebuilding, few expected much from Gruden's bunch this season.

But the defense has enjoyed an awakening, and Sunday feasted on inexperienced quarterback J.P. Losman. The Bills finished with 100 yards passing. Losman was sacked by linebacker Shelton Quarles for a safety and walked off the field with a 52.8 passer rating for the day.

"Fresh meat," cornerback Brian Kelly said of Losman, the second-year pro who was making just his second NFL start. "Blood in the water."

Losman should not feel like he's been picked on. Since the Bucs started building their team on defense in the mid-1990s, they have made mortals out of the likes of Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick in their early years; in some cases, even their later ones.

For eight straight years, the Bucs have ranked in the NFL's top 10 in total defense; six times in the top five.

This week, they'll supplant the Bills as No. 1.

"This is more like what we're used to around here," linebacker Derrick Brooks said.

The last few seasons, the Bucs played solid defense -- last year's unit finished No. 5 overall and first against the pass -- but had breakdowns, even meltdowns, in critical times. They also weren't very good against the run (19th in '04).

In two '05 games, Tampa Bay has surrendered just 73 yards rushing on 33 attempts.

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