Dynamic defensive duo
Nearly everything was going right for the Saints early in the game until LB Barrett Ruud and CB Phillip Buchanon combined to bring the Bucs to life. With a 7-0 lead, New Orleans QB Drew Brees dropped back to pass on second and 15 from his 15. But Ruud blitzed and hit Brees just as he was releasing the ball, causing it to wobble down the left sideline — past intended WR Lance Moore and into the hands of Buchanon, who sprinted 26 yards for the tying touchdown with 8:13 left in the first quarter.
"(The blitz) was a good call, and their guy didn't see me," Ruud said. "I got a good hit on the quarterback. And then I just got up and tried to get a block as soon as possible. That's our focus on defense, either scoring or getting the ball back." For Buchanon, a former Oakland Raider, it marked his fifth interception for a touchdown — and first as a Buccaneer. "I saw the ball floating up there and just saw a good opportunity for me to make a play," he said. "I jumped on it, and my whole goal was to score a touchdown." "It changed the momentum for a while," Ruud said, "but unfortunately we couldn't hold onto it."
Bush and Shockey plague Bucs
One thing never seems to change: RB Reggie Bush and TE Jeremy Shockey (first as a Giant, now as a Saint) give the Bucs fits. That was certainly the case Sunday as Bush accounted for 163 total yards (112 of them receiving) — including a sensational 42-yard swing-pass reception that put the Saints ahead to stay, 24-20, in the fourth quarter. And Shockey, who didn't play in the preseason, caught six passes for 54 yards, one for a clutch first down and another for a 26-yard gain.
"I think he brings an energy to our crowd and to our offense, and we welcome that," Saints coach Sean Payton said. Added Shockey: "I think I answered some questions today." Meanwhile, the Bucs were left to search for answers — especially when it came to shutting down Bush, who beat the Bucs with a punt return in 2006. On his winning touchdown romp Sunday, he eluded several would-be tacklers — including SS Jermaine Phillips. "You get him in space, he's exceptional," Phillips said.
"I thought he was going to try to outrun me to the pylon. But then he put the brakes on and cut it back; that's what great players do. It's a game, and this game falls on us in the secondary. I'm willing to take this on our shoulders and put this one on us. Nobody likes to lose, but we lost, and we didn't make enough plays on the back end. That's where the game changes." Said Buc-killer Bush: "It was really nice to make a big play in a crunch time situation. I was trying to be patient and wait for my opportunity. … It obviously feels great."
A new feeling for Brooks
. Derrick Brooks, left, has never been in this position. For the first time in his career, the veteran linebacker faces serious questions about his ability to play. Brooks, 35, strained his right hamstring in the third quarter while making a tackle on Saints RB Reggie Bush and did not return. The question now is whether he'll return in time to keep a remarkable streak alive. Brooks has started 209 consecutive games, tied for the lead among active players with teammate Kevin Carter. Brooks has not missed a game in 14 seasons.
"I've never really been out there without him," LB Barrett Ruud said. "The biggest thing you lose is his knowledge. He's been doing this 13 years now in the same defense. We have a lot of good players, and now they need to step up." It was almost surreal watching Brooks, well, watching. And his painful injury caused pain for the Bucs when backups Adam Hayward and Matt McCoy attempted to maintain Brooks' high standards. But keep this in mind: The Bucs have the option of playing Cato June at weakside linebacker if Brooks misses next week's game against Atlanta, given June played the position with the Colts.
Former first-round pick Michael Clayton, left, was the odd man out in a crowded receiving corps. He was inactive for the game but emphasized he could have played despite a chest bruise that had limited him in the past week. With the Bucs typically activating no more than five receivers, it was expected one of six would sit. Clayton thought he might be the one. "I kind of had a hint all week," he said. "But I didn't really know until we got in the locker room. It's a long season. I have to keep moving."
Clayton might get his chance next week depending on the status of Maurice Stovall, who left the game with a shoulder injury and did not return. He opted not to discuss the injury after the game, deferring to coach Jon Gruden. DT Jovan Haye injured his hand and had X-rays performed after the game, but he didn't think he suffered any broken bones.
Sears' long day
Arron Sears, committed three costly penalties — two holding calls and one for being illegally downfield — in one of the uglier days you'll see from an offensive lineman. Sears and the rest of his linemates had difficulties protecting QB Jeff Garcia, who took a pounding throughout the day. Regarding the penalties, Sears said, "It's the crowd, season opener. All that stuff. Just didn't get the job done."
At a critical time in the game, with the Bucs leading 20-17, DE Gaines Adams couldn't have picked a better time to get a good jump off the ball against Saints LT Jammal Brown. But Adams never got near QB Drew Brees because he was pulled down by Brown in one of the most obvious holding calls you'll ever see. The worst part: RB Reggie Bush got loose for 29 yards on a dump-off pass and scored a touchdown three plays later. "It was a big play, yes, but it shouldn't come down to a referee having to make a call," Adams said.
Sabby shows up
Defensive backs coach Raheem Morris vowed before the game to give second-year S Sabby Piscitelli some playing time on at least a few series. He made good on the promise, sending Piscitelli out for one series at free safety and another at strong. Piscitelli had one of the game's nastier hits, too, clobbering WR Marques Colston after a 5-yard gain in the second quarter. "(Morris) told me I was going to play, but when you get in a game situation, you don't really know how it's going to go," Piscitelli said. "I figured if I make some plays, they'll keep giving me some more plays." Quick hits
Earnest Graham's 46-yard run in the third quarter was a career long. … The teams combined for 14 penalties for 117 yards. The Saints were sloppy early, with six penalties in the first half. Four of the Bucs' penalties came in the second half. … The Bucs had one sack, by DE Greg White, last year's sack leader. … The Bucs were 2-of-12 on third downs (17 percent) and didn't convert their first until early in the fourth quarter. … Neither Saints RB Deuce McAllister nor CB Mike McKenzie, both recovering from serious knee injuries suffered last season, played. … Bucs WR Ike Hilliard made his 500th career reception in the second quarter.
Deferring the decision
The Bucs won the coin toss — and then something strange happened. Instead of choosing to receive the opening kickoff, the usual move, they took advantage of a new league rule that allows teams to defer receiving the kickoff until the second half (similar to college rules). It was a risky move, predicated on stopping the Saints quickly, quieting down the noisy Superdome crowd and taking over with some momentum. Unfortunately for the Bucs, none of those things happened. The Saints drove 76 yards in six plays and jumped ahead 7-0 on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to David Patten, igniting pandemonium among the home fans. And though the Bucs eventually jumped ahead 10-7 at halftime, they failed to go anywhere after receiving the opening kickoff of the second half, winding up punting from their 18.
Stephen F. Holder and Dave Scheiber The St.Petersburg Times 8 September 2008