Tony Dungy: 'That First Game was a Wake-Up Call'

Posted Sep 7, 2017

Even from the very first game of his NFL career, Randy Moss wanted to take the ball deep and take the top off the defense.

The coach on the opposing sideline for Moss’ regular-season NFL debut was no dummy.

So when Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy and the Buccaneers rolled into the Metrodome for Week 1 of the 1998 season, they had a strategy in place.

Moss dispatched it rather easily, catching four passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

“You saw the preseason tape, and he was catching balls on everyone,” Dungy said. “I remember we made a specific note that game that he catches the deep ball and has speed, and you can’t let him get behind you.

“He caught two long ones that day for touchdowns even though that was something we had preached all week,” Dungy recalled. “We had a good secondary and guys who were smart players and understood, but he was just deceptively fast, and I don’t think you really got that sense until you played against him. That first game was a wake-up call for our guys.”

Because the Vikings and Buccaneers were together in the old NFC Central, Moss faced Dungy’s defense eight times over the first four years of the wide receiver’s career.

Moss’ stat line against Dungy from 1998-2001: 32 catches for 617 yards and seven touchdowns.

Dungy and the Buccaneers defense became synonymous with the Tampa 2 scheme, a zone coverage that focused on giving safety help to cornerbacks to protect against deep threats such as Moss.

Dungy said the scheme was not designed specifically for Moss, but the wide receiver was certainly in mind when the Bucs implemented it.

“You had to very careful not to get in 1-on-1 situations because they looked for him on the deep ball,” Dungy said. “We kind of said, ‘We don’t even want to get in these 1-on-1 situations because even when he’s covered, it can be a big play.’

“You’d rather shade the safety that way or play some type of zone and not let the quarterback think he could take a shot,” Dungy said. “Randy was valuable even if the stats said he didn’t catch a lot of balls that game. He dictated what coverages Minnesota got.”

The Vikings, of course, went 15-1 in 1998, winning the division before falling short in the NFC Championship.

Besides the playoff defeat, Minnesota’s lone loss came down in Tampa Bay to Dungy and his defense. Moss had two catches for 52 yards and did not score.

Even now, almost 20 years later, Dungy said he still takes pride in that 27-24 victory.

“To slow them down enough, that was a big accomplishment,” Dungy said. “We played as well as we could play and won by three points.

“Not many teams were going to beat them that year,” Dungy added. “I really thought that was the Super Bowl year for them. That was one of the best offenses I’ve ever had to face.”