TAMPA, Fla., Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Led by the dominant play of defensive tackle Warren Sapp and the running of Mike Alstott, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers extended their winning streak to five games Sunday with a 17-3 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Tampa Bay (5-1) matched its best start in club history, first established in 1979 and equaled in 1997, while remaining tied with New Orleans for first place in the NFC South.
Bothered by a shoulder injury that hampered him for most of the 2001 season, Sapp is back in Pro Bowl form. He recorded two sacks Sunday, increasing his season total to six, igniting a defense which did not give up a touchdown for the third straight game.
"We're making plays and that's the only thing we try to do," Sapp said. "We just try to put ourselves in a position to win games and we did that today."
Tampa Bay's defense had scored a touchdown in its previous four games, matching the total it has allowed this season. The Bucs' defense failed to extend the touchdown streak, but kept the Browns out of the end zone and held them to 11 first downs and 190 total yards.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden was asked to compare the Buccaneers' defense with that of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who set an NFL record for least points allowed in a 16-game season.
"I'm not going to go there," Gruden said. "I'm not going to compare. We have a different style of defense, but it is obviously playing extremely well."
The Browns (2-4) averted a shutout when Phil Dawson kicked a 50-yard field goal with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the Bucs doubled Cleveland's output with 22 first downs and 380 total yards.
Alstott carried the offense in the second half when he rushed for 121 of his 126 yards. He scored on a one-yard run in the first quarter and a 17-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Fellow back Michael Pittman caught five passes for 95 yards, including a career-best 64-yarder which set up Alstott's first touchdown, and added 53 yards on the ground.
"We had great production from Mike today," Gruden said. "We're creatively trying to utilize both of these backs (Alstott and Pittman). They (Cleveland) challenged us to run the ball."
Tim Couch did not have the benefit of a running game and completed 20 of 40 passes for 147 yards with an interception for the Browns, who lost their third straight. Couch made headlines earlier in the week when he lashed out at Browns fans for cheering when he was knocked out of last week's game against Baltimore with a concussion.
"You have to try and establish the run because they're a team that likes to play the two deep zone and put the pressure on you with the front four," Couch said. "You have to try and run the ball well to make them bring another safety up in the box so you can get singled up on the outside."
Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson was 15 of 32 for 194 yards with an interception. Pittman and Keyshawn Johnson accounted for most of that yardage. Keyshawn had four receptions for 64 yards.
On Tampa Bay's third play from scrimmage, Pittman caught a short pass, broke free from cornerback Daylon McCutcheon's grasp and raced down the right sideline before being dragged down at the Cleveland five by safety Devin Bush.
Alstott went up the middle for a four-yard run and then scored on a one-yard run with 9:01 left in the first quarter.
"Right now the defense is the story," Barber said. "You're going to be talking about us for a long time."