TAMPA, Fla. – The Bucs made two trips to Giants Stadium in the space of three Sundays toward the end of the 1997 season. They defeated the Giants, 20-8, in the first Meadowlands matchup to improve to 9-4 and put themselves in great shape for a playoff spot with three weeks remaining.
Tampa Bay lost the return trip to the Jets, 31-0. Thanks to Green Bay defeating Carolina that afternoon, the Bucs were in the postseason for the first time since 1982. Tony Dungy’s team would finish 10-6, second in the NFC Central and host division rival Detroit in a wild-card matchup.
Monte Kiffin’s defense ensured Barry Sanders did not heat up on a late-December afternoon when the temperature at kickoff was 49 degrees in Tampa.
The great running back was held to 65 yards on 18 carries, and the Bucs’ offense did enough in a 20-10 win, the franchise’s first playoff victory in 18 years and second all-time. Played in front of 73,361, it was the last NFL game played at Houlihan’s Stadium, formerly Tampa Stadium.
Tampa Bay took a 10-0 lead in the second quarter when Trent Dilfer connected with Horace Copeland on a nine-yard touchdown. That capped a drive that was a thing of beauty: 17 plays and 89 yards that consumed 8:50. The yardage represented a good chunk of the Bucs’ 316 on the day.
While the Bucs contained Sanders, Mike Alstott, and Warrick Dunn combined to rush for 140 yards, Alstott’s 31-yard touchdown run four minutes into the third quarter gave Tampa Bay a 20-0 lead.
Bobby Ross’ Lions came to life after Frank Reich replaced the concussed Scott Mitchell late in the third quarter, but they would come no closer than the 10-point final margin.
The Buccaneers traveled to Green Bay for a division-round matchup, which the NFC Central champ Packers won, 21-7.