Defense Does Its Part
Good, but not good enough. That was the prevailing attitude of Tampa Bay's defensive players after a 17-3 loss to the Giants, who came in with the NFL's No. 2 attack behind Philadelphia.
A week after allowing 506 yards to the Eagles, the Bucs yielded only 251 yards Sunday and limited Tiki Barber to an average of 2.6 yards on his 26 carries.
"You can massage stats any way you want to," Derrick Brooks said. "The only stats you can't massage are wins and losses."
New York capped its second possession with a 7-yard scoring pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress, who used a 7-inch height advantage and a dazzling one-handed catch to beat Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber in the left corner.
"He caught it left-handed, going away," Barber said, shaking his head. "It's a good matchup for them from the get-go, but that catch was ridiculous. I thought we played well defensively. We forced a lot of three-and-outs from a team with a ton of weapons. More than anything, field position won them this game. Patient teams can win that way."
Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles led the way with 13 tackles and Barber added 10 stops as the Bucs forced nine punts. The game's only other touchdown came in the second quarter when Brandon Jacobs bulled over from a yard out, following a Cadillac Williams fumble at the Bucs 28. "Our job on defense is to make sure the opposition scores less points than we do," linebackers coach Joe Barry said. "We can walk around saying 'good job' to ourselves, but all of that doesn't matter. The scoreboard is the only stat that matters."
Tampa Bay's chronic tackling problems weren't evident against the Giants, but the Bucs failed to register a takeaway and they are 4-23 under Gruden when losing the turnover battle.
"We didn't get enough turnovers on our side," defensive end Greg Spires said. "They got up on us early and we as a defense didn't get the ball back. It was a field position game, and they won it."
Like all the Bucs, Brooks would prefer to give up 506 yards and win rather than explain a loss after a solid defensive effort.
"It's no secret how the Bucs win games," Brooks said. "Normally, when you play on the road, when you get those turnovers, you win. They had 15 yards  to go for their second touchdown and they didn't smell the end zone the rest of the game."
With the offense unable to sustain drives, Tampa Bay's defense was on the field for 35:38.
Jacobs, a 270-pound load who can move, found some running lanes for New York during a fourth-quarter drive capped by a field goal, but Eli Manning averaged less than 5 yards per pass attempt in swirling winds. "Our defense did a great job today holding them down," Bucs rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski said. "We need to score more than three points."
The Giants, who have reeled off four consecutive wins after a 1-2 start, know they won on a day when their high-powered attack was basically muted.
"That was not an easy football game," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "It was a physical game against a team that has been in the top 10 defensively for nine straight years. We're very fortunate and very happy to have won."
Tiki Barber entered the game as the league leader in total yards from scrimmage, but he managed only 68 yards on the ground and 20 more on three receptions.
"They are fast and quick," Barber said of a Tampa Bay defense that had slid to No. 27. "I think the most important thing is that our defense did an equally good job."
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 30 October 2006