Special Teams Hot And Cold
The play of the Bucs' special teams tended to be a mixed bag Sunday in the Crescent City, punctuated by big plays and big gaffes. Martin Gramatica converted field goals from 23 and 53 yards, but he hooked a 41-yard attempt midway through the third quarter, turning the momentum in the Saints' favor. Tampa Bay's coverage units were superb against Michael Lewis, one of the NFL's most dangerous return specialists, and Josh Bidwell averaged 46.3 yards on his three punts. Torrie Cox averaged 27 yards on four kickoff returns, including a critical 42-yarder down the left sideline with 3:43 remaining that helped the Bucs run out the clock. ``That was a case of Torrie Cox refusing to go down,'' Derrick Brooks said. ``In the past, those plays don't go our way.''
The Bucs are now 18-2 when leading at halftime under Jon Gruden (the losses were at New Orleans in 2002 and last season against Indianapolis). |
Brooks had thrown only one interception in his previous 384 pass attempts when CB Brian Kelly picked off a fourth-quarter throw for TE Boo Williams.
The Bucs were whistled 11 times for 65 yards but posted their first victory in the past five years when committing at least 10 penalties.
Although the Bucs didn't register a sack, DE Simeon Rice forced veteran LT Wayne Gandy into three penalties, including two for holding.
Chris Simms became the 26th player to start at quarterback for the Buccaneers in 29 seasons.
Simms’ first start comes 25 years almost to the day after the first NFL start made by his father, Phil Simms. On October 7, 1979, the elder Simms started at quarterback for the 0-5 New York Giants against the 5-0 Buccaneers, completing six of 12 passes for 37 yards as the Giants won, 17-14.
Tampa Bay scored on its opening drive for the second time in five games. The first possession in the Bucs’ loss at Oakland also resulted in a field goal.
Ken Dilger’s 45-yard touchdown catch was his first score since the Bucs’ last trip to New Orleans. Dilger scored on a 14-yard catch in that game to help the Bucs’ win, 14-7.
One of the most relieved Bucs on the flight back to Tampa was second-year DE Dewayne White. With the Saints trailing 20-7 late in the third quarter, White was flagged for a rarely called leverage penalty as John Carney kicked a 24-yard FG. White attempted to block the kick by springing himself off an offensive lineman. New Orleans coach Jim Haslett took points off the board as New Orleans was given a first down at the 3-yard line and Aaron Brooks flipped a TD pass to Joe Horn two plays later. ``It was their center I jumped off,'' White said. ``I jumped straight up and they said I had to jump forward. Winning this game took a lot of stress off me because I was sitting there thinking I just gave them an extra four points.''
Many Bucs, including several defensive players, praised the determination of RB Michael Pittman as a key component of the 20-17 victory. Pittman finished with modest numbers, running for 51 yards and adding five receptions for 29 yards, but he delivered two critical plays in the final minutes to preserve Tampa Bay's initial triumph. ``The picture I have in my mind of this game is Michael Pittman running the ball at the end,'' Brooks said. ``His effort is something we all can catch hold of.''
Pittman's 14-yard catch on third down kept the chains moving on Tampa Bay's final drive. Three plays later, with the Bucs needing 5 yards to maintain possession, Pittman burst off left tackle and gained 10, dragging two Saints across his shoulders to effectively seal the decision. ``Now, we can sleep well,'' said Pittman, who missed the first three games serving an NFL suspension. ``If I don't get that first down, a lot of things could have happened. The happiest feeling in the world is walking to the sidelines and seeing your teammates cheering.''
On their initial possession of the second half, the Bucs opened up a 20-7 advantage when TE Ken Dilger got free for a 45-yard TD reception. Brian Griese faked a handoff and spotted Dilger behind the defense down the middle. Dilger caught the ball at the New Orleans 20, braced for a hit that never came, and completed his second scoring reception in two years. ``I knew I was wide ... open,'' Dilger deadpanned, ``and nobody caught me from behind. It must be my blazing speed.'' Dilger also caught an 11-yard pass on Tampa Bay's final drive when the Saints had the Bucs in a first-and-20 hole.
The Buccaneers named eight players inactive for Sunday night’s game: WR Marcus Knight, WR Derrick Lewis, CB Torrie Cox, FB Jameel Cook, T Anthony Davis, G Jeb Terry, WR Joey Galloway, DE Josh Savage and designated third quarterback Brad Johnson.