PLAYER OF THE GAME
The Bucs never win this game without the stellar play of their defense and they don't win without the stellar play of their quarterback, Jeff Garcia, either. Garcia had one of his best games in a Bucs uniform, completing all but seven of his 30 throws for 255 yards and running six times for 21 more. One of his runs converted a third down, then there were the passing plays he made with his feet.
The best of those was probably the one in which he scrambled to avoid pressure before hitting Warrick Dunn for a 31-yard gain in the first quarter. That and his pinpoint throw between two defenders to TE Jerramy Stevens in the third quarter set up critical scores and allowed the Bucs to win an equally critical game.
Years from now, when they're inducting him into the Hall of Fame, the NFL will put together a highlight reel of Derrick Brooks that will almost certainly include the play he made against Adrian Peterson on a fourth-and-1 play from the Vikings 49 late in the third quarter. The Vikings ran a fake into the line and sent Peterson out deep down the right seam. Brooks hung with Peterson step for step and just as Peterson was squeezing the ball between his hands to make the catch, Brooks slapped it away, defusing what might have been a big gain.
The game was tied at that point and a catch there would have put the Vikings in field goal range and given them a big momentum boost. Brooks prevented all of that and might have saved the Bucs' chances of winning with one swipe of his hand.
The Bucs defense had a good first half. Good, not great. They allowed Peterson to run for 71 yards on 13 carries and allowed the Vikings to convert three of seven third-down attempts. Given the struggles of the Bucs offense, a lot of defensive coordinators might have changed things up and ordered more blitzes or something to create more takeaways.
But Monte Kiffin stuck with what he was doing and simply ordered his players to play better. The simple approached worked. The Bucs continued to hustle and they shut down Peterson and the rest of the Vikings offense, limiting them to 64 total yards in the final two quarters.
It's getting to the point where a play run out of the wildcat formation isn't all that quirky anymore. The Bucs still aren't making much use of the formation, though, so their decision to run a play out of it late in the first quarter was still unique. What wasn't unique was the result.
The Bucs gained just 3 yards off an Earnest Graham run the first time they ran a play out of the wildcat (against Seattle) and the result this time wasn't any better. The direct snap was to Warrick Dunn yet again but instead of handing off to Graham, Dunn kept the ball, gaining 2 yards. The end result of the play, however, was a 15-yard loss, that thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty charged to (who else?) Jeremy Trueblood.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
The Bucs remain perfect at home this year with a 5-0 record. ... The Bucs have faced seven of the NFC's top-10 rushers. Those seven backs have run a combined 115 times for 376 yards and no touchdowns. ... With his win Sunday, Jon Gruden became the team's all-time leader in home victories with 55. He was tied with Tony Dungy. ... Gruden is 8-3 overall following the bye week. ... FB B.J. Askew's touchdown was the first of his NFL career and it came on his first carry as a Buccaneer. ... TE Jerramy Stevens had a career day Sunday. His six catches and 84 receiving yards were both career highs. ... WR Antonio Bryant recorded his 300th career reception. ... Garcia needs 6 passing yards to pass Shaun King and move into eighth place on the Bucs' all-time list of passing leaders.
Earnest Graham hurt his ankle on the Bucs' second offensive play from scrimmage and did not return. He was seen after the game leaving the stadium wearing a protective boot, but the Bucs say they won't know until at least today how serious the injury is. The Bucs might have lost special teams standout and backup linebacker Geno Hayes. He suffered a knee injury late in the contest and was immediately declared out for the rest of the game.
Brooks might have said it best after this game. "We just keep finding different ways to win," he said. He's right. This Bucs team has some issues - particularly on offense - that will have to be ironed out if they hope to make a serious run at or in the playoffs. As long as they keep finding ways to win, though, they'll continue to give themselves the time they need to find the solutions.
Of course, if the defense keeps playing the way it has, the Bucs could continue to struggle on offense and go deep into the playoffs anyway. Gruden can't quite figure out why the Bucs haven't been recognized for their defensive prowess this year, and we're with him. The stats may not show it, but it's hard to imagine a better defensive team in the league than this one.
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune 17 November 2008