Undefeated in division, Bucs pleased to have edge in NFC South
More critical than the fire-breathing defense, bigger than the lopsided score and more important than the powerful running game was the effect the Bucs' victory had on the NFC South standings. The Bucs now lead by two games over Carolina and New Orleans, both of which dropped to 4-6 with losses to Green Bay and Houston, respectively.
Tampa Bay is an unblemished 3-0 in the division and can control its own destiny the rest of the way. "It's great," running back Earnest Graham said. "We're in the driver's seat right now, and we like it that way."
Said linebacker Barrett Ruud: "Now it's on us. It's in our control. If something happens, the only ones we can blame are ourselves. And if we do well, the only ones we congratulate are ourselves. I like that."
The Bucs' unbeaten record in the division is key. The first tiebreaker for a division title is head-to-head meetings. But if two teams split their two meetings, the next tiebreaker is division record. Every other team in the NFC South has at least two division losses.
So, in essence, each division win counts a little more. "Division games count double," linebacker Cato June said. "You win your division, you're in the tournament. That's what we want."
Ruud reels one in
Ruud made his first career interception - and fortunately didn't drop it. The easy ones, he said, are sometimes the most difficult. So, when defensive tackle Jovan Haye barreled into Atlanta quarterback Byron Leftwich and caused him to throw a wobbly downfield pass in the first quarter, Ruud was there to reel it in.
"I was just thinking, 'Don't miss the layup,'" Ruud said. "It's like playing with (NBA point guard) Steve Nash. You just catch it and lay it in. It was in the air for a long time, so I had a chance to think probably too much. But luckily I came down and once again showed I couldn't run with it well."
That much was true: Ruud stumbled all of 5 yards before being taken down by receiver Michael Jenkins.
Bruce Gradkowski hadlimited playing time in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach for the Falcons. It was Gradkowski's second appearance this season. His only other appearance came late in a blowout loss to Indianapolis on Oct. 7. He said getting some time in the huddle helps keep him sharp. "No matter what time in the game you get in, it's good for you," he said. "Especially with (center) John Wade and (the starting offensive line) so we get a little connection. It never hurts. I think it's good for me to get in the huddle and call some plays and get the tempo going."
Dunn stopped short
Warrick Dunn was limited to 32 yards, leaving him 26 shy of 10,000 for his career. "They were making plays," Dunn said of the Bucs defense. "Their front four, obviously, their defensive ends, caused a lot of problems today. ... To me, that's just traditional Bucs football."
Clayton still slow
Michael Clayton didn't take a major role in the offense during his first game back from an ankle sprain that sidelined him for two games. Clayton, Jon Gruden said, was still not completely healthy. "Clayton got on the field but didn't do much today," Gruden said. "He was not 100 percent. Three days off (during the bye week) doesn't do that much for some of these (injured) guys. We're going to need these guys in the coming weeks."
Stephen F Holder, The St.Petersburg Times 19 November 2007