Rookie Tackle Neutralizes Rice In Debut
Rookie Zach Strief had never suited up for an NFL game until Sunday, when he dressed down a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end. Filling in for injured left tackle Jammal Brown, Strief neutralized the Bucs' Simeon Rice and capably protected the blind side of Drew Brees as the Saints romped past the Bucs 31-14.
"I was almost too excited about my first start," said the seventh-round pick out of Northwestern, who had been inactive through seven games. "I have a lot of stuff I need to work on, but I think I did all right today. Rice is a good player with long arms and good leverage, but I was able to get my hands on him."
Rice was limited to two tackles and Brees wasn't sacked while throwing for 314 yards and three touchdowns. New Orleans gave Strief occasional blocking help and often rolled Brees to the right to buy extra time. "I surprised myself because I wasn't all that apprehensive heading into the game," Strief said. "I was able to get some reps this week in practice, and that helped. I slept really good [Saturday] night - Marriott has great beds."
Rice, the 13th-most prolific sacker in league annals, has two takedowns at the midseason point and his streak of five consecutive double-digit sack seasons is in jeopardy. "Our goal was to get them behind in the down and distance, rush the passer and take advantage of a rookie left tackle and see if he can pass protect," Jon Gruden said.
On a sunny afternoon in Tampa, the 6-foot-7, 349-pound Strief proved he could. "Zach did a good job," New Orleans RB Deuce McAllister said. "Simeon made some plays, but it wasn't like he dominated the game. Zach's a big kid. If he gets his hands on you, you're going to have trouble."
Follow the leader
Nine-time Pro Bowl LB Derrick Brooks played in his 184th career game for the Bucs, passing T Paul Gruber for first place on the franchise list. In making his 181st career start, just two behind Gruber's club record, Brooks led all players with 13 tackles. "I congratulated Derrick after the game," said Saints RB Aaron Stecker, who played four seasons with the Bucs. "The man's a class act. If every player could be like Derrick Brooks, we'd all have a championship ring at some point. All I know is I feel privileged to have had a chance to play with a Hall of Famer."
Michael Pittman suffered a shoulder stinger and MLB Shelton Quarles sprained an ankle against the Saints. Second-year pro Barrett Ruud replaced Quarles in the third quarter and tied the veteran with six stops.
While the Bucs have scored only one first-quarter touchdown all season, the Saints bolted to a 14-0 advantage within 10 minutes Sunday, setting an aggressive tone on the road.
"It's a huge difference knowing we have the lead going in at halftime and knowing they have to throw the ball, which also limits them," said DE Will Smith, who dropped Bruce Gradkowski twice. "We know that's what we specialize in, getting the pass rush."
The early lead also took some strain off a New Orleans ground game that produced only 49 yards on 35 carries.
"That first quarter was great for us," Saints S Josh Bullocks said. "Everything was clicking and getting an early lead really helps. It was a real big game for us, a division game on the road, coming off a loss last week. We know we're a good team and we proved that today."
Man in black
Other than the last five minutes of the opening half, little went right for Gruden, who fell to 25-31 since the 2002 championship season. "I feel comfortable in black here," Gruden said of his choice of game wardrobe. "I feel like it was a good selection of clothes. That's about all I did well today was wear black."
The Bucs are 2-6 at the halfway point for the first time since 1996, Tony Dungy's first year in Tampa.
Mike Alstott has now gone four consecutive games without a rushing attempt.
The Bucs have allowed at least one touchdown pass in 12 consecutive games.
With 102 points in eight games, the Bucs are on pace for their fewest points since the 1991 club that went 3-13 under Richard Williamson.
Mike Alstott played in his 150th game on Sunday. He is in sixth place on the team’s career games played list. Alstott also made his 130th start, allowing him to tie Warren Sapp for fifth place on the Bucs’ all-time list.
CB Phillip Buchanon, signed by the team on October 17, saw his first action on defense as a Buccaneer. He came in on a nickel package on New Orleans’ second drive. Buchanon finished the game with two tackles.
CB Torrie Cox made his first start of the season when the Saints opened in a three-wide formation and the Bucs matched with their nickel defense.
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 6 November 2006