Defense Answers Gruden's Call
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune, published 16 October 2006

And on the seventh day, the Bucs defense hardly rested. Called out by Coach Jon Gruden last Monday, Monte Kiffin's prideful unit shackled Cincinnati's high-powered attack in a dramatic 14-13 win. The Bengals came into Raymond James Stadium averaging 24.5 points per game, but converted only three of 14 on third down and ran for 53 yards against a defense motivated by Gruden's pointed remarks.

"All b.s. aside, we had to go out there and produce, and I think we produced today," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "This is the closest group I've ever been around. It's not a family, it's a brotherhood. If he [Gruden] calls one of us out, he's calling all of us out."

Cincinnati gained only 17 yards in its first three possessions and the only touchdown by the Bengals came in the second quarter, when T.J. Houshmandzadeh reached up over Ronde Barber in the left corner and snared Carson Palmer's perfect pass.

The Bengals punted on seven of their 12 possessions, including five three-and-outs, and Rudi Johnson never found a rhythm on the ground. "We pride ourselves in making it a defensive game," said cornerback Juran Bolden, pressed into a starting role because of Brian Kelly's turf toe. "Some people were claiming Cincinnati is the best team in the AFC, but this was old Buc ball. We're used to seeing 14-13 games around here."

Ellis Wyms was credited with both Tampa Bay sacks and Palmer faced steady pressure, with Dewayne White deflecting two third-down passes. But for the third time in five games, the Bucs failed to register a takeaway. "I have high expectations for them and I think it's important to say some things behind closed doors, but I love those guys," Gruden said. "They are a big reason why we won today and why we have a chance to win again next week."

When a defense that ranked No. 1 in the league in 2005 slips to 20th after four games, questions are inevitable. Some observers suggested age crept up on a unit that has reeled off nine consecutive top-10 finishes. "We're not looking at youth on offense and age on defense," said 33-year-old linebacker Derrick Brooks. "We're going out trying to win a ballgame, period. We're not concerned about who's been in this league how many years."

Even Tampa Bay's offensive players were surprised by the early struggles on the other side of the ball. "Expectations are always high for our defense - that's what has built this franchise for the last 10 years," tight end Anthony Becht said. "What was said about them this week was going to build a fire under anybody."

For Hovan, Gruden was merely stating the obvious when he called out several defensive linemen by name during his Monday news conference. "This is a very tough business and you need thick skin," Hovan said. "All we could do was man up and play some defense today. That's how we play defense around here."

While thrilled with the victory, Bolden knew he would take some ribbing about a third-quarter Palmer pass that bounced off his chest. "Now I've got to put $100 in the pot," he said of his near-interception. "We've started the second quarter of our season on the right note. We pride ourselves on three-and-outs."

Bolden was reminded the Bengals finished the first half with 3 yards on the ground. "That lets you know right away that our guys up front were balling today," he said. "We're fighting hard every week and we're not going to settle for less."