Uneasy Feeling As Bucs Fall To Saints
The Tampa Tribune, published 8 September 2008

The look on Derrick Brooks' face matched the feeling in his heart. It was a look, a feeling of helplessness. And with every tackle Reggie Bush broke on his way to the game-winning touchdown in the Bucs' 24-20 loss to the Saints on Sunday, the feeling grew. "When you can't run and you're seeing drives that you know you can make a difference on and it's not happening, you are helpless," Brooks said. "That's exactly how I felt; I felt helpless. All I can say is, I hope I'm not in that position again."

There's a good chance he won't be. The right hamstring injury Brooks suffered, ironically, while stuffing Bush for a 1-yard gain in the third quarter, is nothing more than a strain. With treatment and rest, he could be back on the field Sunday when the Bucs host the Falcons. "Why not?" he asked, rhetorically. "I've got to think positive. If I start thinking negative I won't play. So I'll just think I'm going to be ready to go and see where we're at next Sunday."

Where the Bucs will be Sunday is where they are today - down a game in their defense of the NFC South division title. They won that title by seldom if ever allowing a big play on defense and by finding ways to make big plays on offense. This time out, though, both elements were missing.

The defense allowed touchdown passes of 39, 84 and 42 yards - the latter coming on what started out as a dumpoff to Bush in the flat - while the offense struggled for three quarters to find its rhythm. The Bucs ran the ball effectively - getting 146 yards on 20 carries, including 91 on 10 carries by Earnest Graham - but their passing game never got in sync. Dropped balls, including two by new starter Antonio Bryant, were part of the problem. The bigger issue, though, was a clear disconnect between quarterback Jeff Garcia and split end Joey Galloway.

Garcia threw the ball behind Galloway on a couple of tries and overthrew him on one fourth-quarter play in which Galloway stopped running two-thirds of the way through his route. "I don't think it was rust," said Garcia, who completed 24 of 41 throws for 221 yards and a touchdown. "It's just that the execution wasn't there. We're capable of more than what we showed today."

Ronde Barber said pretty much the same thing about the defense, which had players in position to stop every one of the Saints touchdowns but failed to get the job done. The first failure came on a 39-yard throw to David Patten that rookie nickelback Aqib Talib tried to bat down as Patten slipped behind him into the end zone. The second came when Barber's foot got tangled up with Devery Henderson's as Henderson broke away for an 84-yard touchdown pass, the second-longest ever allowed by the Bucs.

The last one, the one that left Brooks feeling so helpless, came on that dumpoff to Bush, who beat a Matt McCoy tackle to start the play, outmaneuvered Jermaine Phillips to keep it going and outraced Phillip Buchanon to finish it. McCoy was in the game not just because Brooks was out but because Brooks' replacement, Adam Hayward, had left the field after the previous play complaining of cramps. "I just took a bad angle on the tackle," said McCoy, a middle linebacker who took only a few reps at Brooks' weakside spot during practice last week. "He was right there; I should have made the play."

There was a lot of that kind of talk in the Bucs locker room Sunday. Though the Bucs made a couple of plays - Buchanon returned an interception for a touchdown and Garcia connected with Ike Hilliard for a score - they didn't make enough. "There were opportunities there with routine plays that we normally make," Jon Gruden said of the offense. "Defensively, the reason we haven't given up a lot of yards, historically, is because we don't give up the big plays. Today the Saints were able to get a couple. It was a bit uncharacteristic of us."

Almost as uncharacteristic as seeing Brooks on the sideline, feeling helpless.