Stephen Holder, The St.Petersburg Times, published 26 October 2009|
The Bucs secondary has come up with several potentially game-changing plays in recent weeks, from CB Aqib Talib's three interceptions at Washington to S Tanard Jackson's interception return for a touchdown against the Panthers last week. But those plays went to waste, as did two more in Sunday's loss to the Patriots.
Jackson made a touchdown-saving interception of a Tom Brady pass in the end zone in the second quarter, and Talib added an interception down the middle against WR Brandon Tate a few minutes later. But those plays were negated by subsequent breakdowns.
"Any time you make plays where you score or you get the ball back, it's going to contribute," Jackson said. "But those plays also get wiped away when you give up big plays. When you get big plays, you have to stop them from getting big plays. It works hand in hand. Against a team like the Patriots, you can't go big play for big play with them."
Jackson's interception in the end zone thwarted a drive that threatened to extend New England's 14-0 lead with 13:36 left in the second quarter. But after his interception, the Bucs offense went three and out, and Brady connected with WR Sam Aiken on a short pass that turned into a 54-yard score because of LB Barrett Ruud's missed tackle.
Talib's interception came as he was playing centerfield, using his athleticism. "My man ran short, and Sabby (Piscitelli) jumped the short route," Talib said. "So, I just went deep and looked for some work and was able to help Ronde (Barber)."
Unfortunately, once again, the Bucs weren't able to convert the turnovers into a victory.
Welker wreaks havoc
The Patriots' Wes Welker, the shifty, all-purpose slot receiver, had a huge day against the Bucs, finishing with 10 catches for 107 yards. And, per usual, he didn't amass his numbers with big, downfield plays. Instead, the Patriots used a variety of receiver screens that enabled him to get into open spaces. CB Ronde Barber said the Bucs were a bit surprised by the tactic. "They hadn't shown that many screens in two years," he said.
Welker's longest reception was 16 yards. CB Aqib Talib's relative success holding WR Randy Moss in check (five catches, 69 yards) forced New England to settle for underneath routes with Welker, which the Patriots gladly took.
"Give credit to (the Patriots)," LB Barrett Ruud said. "Aqib is playing great. He shut down Randy Moss, pretty much. They hit us with a bunch of short routes, which is what they do. They throw a bunch of short routes and then try to hit Randy over the top. We took one part of it away. But they were able to hurt us with the other part."
The Bucs never envisioned WR Sammie Stroughter being central to their offense, but for the second straight game, his contributions were critical. The rookie seventh-round draft pick led the Bucs with three receptions for 63 yards. But his catches aren't routine plays.
Playing in the slot, generally on third down, Stroughter is usually on the field for important snaps. To that end, each of his catches Sunday went for a first down, each coming on third down. Of his 16 catches this year, 13 have gone for first downs, with eight coming on third-down plays.
"I know in this offense, my touches are going to be limited, so when my number is called, I'm not trying to do too much," he said. "I just want them to have the confidence that I can do it. I want more and I expect more out of myself."
Stroughter played a role on special teams, too, serving as the primary return man in place of inactive Clifton Smith (concussion). While filling in for Smith against the Panthers last week, Stroughter tied a team record with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Sunday in London, he was a step shy of breaking away on two occasions, leaving him determined to not be stopped.
"I'm hitting the weight room," Stroughter said. "I'm going to hit the legs hard. I have to step out of those tackles. I hold myself to a much higher standard. I know I'm better than that. It's one of those things where I've gotten thrown in the fire, and now I have to go back and evaluate myself."
Smith said he was told Saturday that he wouldn't play after sustaining an illegal blow to the head by Carolina's Dante Wesley. He is no longer suffering from headaches but was held out as a precaution.
Derrick Ward's new world
Derrick Ward's frustration at his inactivity was perhaps eased a bit Sunday, when he got a season-high 13 carries, finishing with 48 yards. Ward had been bothered by his lack of involvement recently, but he said he knows circumstances are working against him.
"You always want to make big plays, especially with us running backs, because (those plays) are few and far between," he said. "We average 4 or 5 yards a carry, so when you get a big play, of course you want to make more. But when you're down 21-0, you can't run the ball."
With the fortunes of the Bucs much different than the winning clubs he played on with the Giants, Ward is having a difficult time adjusting, regardless of his $17 million free agent contract. "This is different," he said.
"It's new to me. I've never experienced this. This is my sixth year, and I've won over 50 games. That's almost 10 games per year. To be 0-7 right now is disappointing. It's a new chapter in my career. I have to roll with it and try to be a team leader and keep everybody focused. It's all I can do."