Bold Bucs Decisions Pay Off
The Bucs led by two touchdowns Sunday with just 1:41 left in the first half. They were 65 yards away from the end zone and the last thing you want in that spot is a mistake that would give New Orleans hope. The safe play is to go conservative and send the home crowd heading to the beer and soft drink taps in a good mood.
But 'safe' wasn't the word of the day, not this time. Jeff Garcia, under orders from Jon Gruden, attacked.
The first play was a 41-yard pass to Ike Hilliard. The second was a 24-yard scoring pass to Joey Galloway. Two plays, 36 seconds, 65 yards. Two plays that spoke loudly about the Bucs' mind-set. Two plays that put a boot on the Saints' neck.
The halftime lead was three touchdowns, not two.
The game was comfortably in hand. There would be no repeat of last year's winless September.
'We're always looking for the right opportunity,' Garcia said after the Bucs' 31-14 victory was complete, and the numbers certainly prove his point.
Garcia threw only 16 times, completing 10, but those 10 completions covered 243 yards and accounted for two touchdowns. He had a scoring pass of 69 yards, two completions of 41 yards each, a 33-yarder and the 24-yard points-maker at the end of the half.
'I think we're a very patient team,' Hilliard said. 'We can take a check-down for 4, 5 or 6 yards. It's just as good as a running play. But Coach is definitely going to take his shots. We have a list of shot plays we want to unleash on our opponent if we can get them in the situation we want them in.'
And then he added quietly, 'We have a quarterback who sees things the other quarterbacks don't necessarily see.'
You can call it Garcia's veteran presence or you could call it Gruden's attack mentality, which works a lot better when you have the ability to actually attack. The Bucs had that on this day. Garcia found large holes in the middle of the New Orleans' zone and went after it ravenously.
We weren't sure there for a while that Gruden hadn't worked a deal for Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison when no one was looking. Garcia left the house with a 145.8 quarterback rating for the game and the Bucs dined on a buffet of feel-good. If you've watched this team over the years, you know they just don't have games that are this explosive. So what gives? 'It's a lot more fun to call plays when you're in that field position,' Gruden said.
You go back to the futility last week in Seattle, when the Bucs dominated play early but had to settle for field goals. There was no such difficulty this time. It started with the second drive. Deuce McAllister fumbled for the Saints after being hit by Barrett Ruud. Zebra blew the call, giving New Orleans the ball.
Gruden attacked. He threw the red challenge flag about 20 yards out onto the field. After further review, Bucs ball.
First play: a 33-yard pass to tight end Alex Smith. A touchdown soon followed and the Bucs were off and romping.
'This was very big, very big,' receiver Michael Clayton said. 'Going through what we've gone through, you don't know unless you've been in this locker room.'
Yeah, it hasn't been the best of stretches for the Bucs. There was lots of controversy last week, as we know. The offense - Gruden's creation - was under siege after faltering in the opening game. People needed to see this to have a reason to believe, both in the team and in Garcia.
'They gave us some opportunities and Jeff made the plays,' Galloway said. 'He made great throws. And, when we see certain looks offensively, and we always say take what they give us, they gave us a chance to get on their safeties a few times, and Jeff made a nice throw.'
It was quite a show.
'He has been on fire since he stepped through the door,' Clayton said. 'We just followed behind him.'
Speaking of Clayton, did you see the block he laid on Saints' safety Kevin Kaesviharn? Clayton laid him out and it sprung Galloway, who had made a reception over the middle, for a 69-yard touchdown pass that looked way easier than a play like that should. 'Mike doesn't show up on the stat sheet today but what he does is earn some stickers for his helmet,' Gruden said.
That's the way it has to be. Everybody helped. They cut out the mistakes that have so often plagued this unit. There were only two penalties for 10 yards. No fumbles. No interceptions. Garcia was not sacked.
They were smart. They were aggressive at the right times. It was impressive.
'We found out ways to execute today and to take care of our opportunities on the field,' Garcia said.
Because of that, they head to next week's game here against St. Louis with hope instead of the desperation an 0-2 start would have brought. Or the questions that certainly would have been raised if the Bucs had sputtered again.
No need to worry about that now, not with the fireworks on display. All you can do is shake your head at a game like that and smile at a job well done. Watching all those big plays from this Bucs' offense might have thrown us off a bit, but perhaps we could get used to it.
'I don't think anyone really gave us a chance to win this game except ourselves,' Galloway said. 'To go out and get a big win this early in our season, we have to build on that. We didn't play our best game, but we played a good one.'
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune 17 September 2007