It's a credit crisis that Jon Gruden believes is worth trying to solve. He says the Bucs defense just hasn't received enough kudos, merit, attention or acclaim this season. So after Tampa Bay's 19-13 win over the Vikings on Sunday, the Bucs coach fixed his glare on the television cameras and made a plea. "If you're listening out there, we do have a hell of a defense here," Gruden said.
The NFL's leading rusher certainly won't argue with that. Tampa Bay held Adrian Peterson to 85 yards on 19 carries (including 14 yards in the second half) while sacking Gus Frerotte five times. The Bucs knew they had to cool off Peterson, who was coming off a 192-yard rushing performance against Green Bay that put him over 1,000 for the season. He gained 51 on his first six carries but was relatively contained after that.
In fact, Peterson did not touch the ball during the fourth quarter. The Bucs now have faced seven of the NFC's top 10 running backs and not allowed any to score or rush for 100 yards.
"That's a great accomplishment by those guys, and we're going to see some more backs down the stretch," Gruden said. "Peterson's great. Hopefully, some of our defensive players start to get some recognition."
Another believer is Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia, who on Sunday was 23-of-30 for 255 yards and scrambled for two first downs only for he and the offense to score one touchdown among five trips inside the Vikings 20.
"It would be scary where we would be without this defense based upon the way they've pulled us through so many times throughout this season," Garcia said. "They did a great job dealing with a heck of a running back, a great running back; stopping him as much as they did and coming up with two big turnovers like they did … and winning the game for us."
The victory improved the Bucs to 7-3, just a game back of the first-place Panthers in the NFC South. There were a lot of big plays in Sunday's game, but linebacker Derrick Brooks might have produced the biggest. With the score tied at 13 midway through the third quarter, Vikings coach Brad Childress elected to go for the first down on fourth and 1 from the Minnesota 49.
With Peterson and fellow running back Chester Taylor both in the game, Frerotte sidestepped blitzing cornerback Ronde Barber and threw a perfect strike downfield to Peterson. But Brooks, who wasn't supposed to cover Peterson, stripped the ball from his hands for an incompletion.
"That was one of the great plays I've ever seen because that was actually my guy," Barrett Ruud said. "I kind of lost track of him, and he went upfield. For Derrick, that was just instinctive. That's why he's probably going to the Hall of Fame."
Childress defended his decision to gamble with so much time left in the game and said he believes Brooks should have been called for pass interference. "We're going to hit the home run right there," Childress said. "We felt like we had a good matchup, and you can't grab the guy down the field when the ball is in the air. That's the rule. (Frerotte) put the ball exactly where he needed to. It falls on my responsibility. We didn't convert that call. I'm just disappointed. … You get that play one time a year. And I just don't feel like (the officials) looked at it correctly."
One series that bridged the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth turned the momentum toward the Bucs. With the score still tied at 13, Frerotte threw consecutive completions to Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian to move the ball to the Bucs 29. Then came the best of the game for Tampa Bay's defense:
• On first down, Cato June fought off a block by fullback Naufahu Tahi to level Peterson for a 3-yard loss.
• On second down, Chris Hovan collapsed the pocket and dumped Frerotte for his first sack of the season.
• On third down, the 37-year-old Frerotte was flushed from the pocket and lost a footrace to 35-year-old Kevin Carter. "I made a joke," Hovan said. "The two oldest guys are having a race out there, and Kevin won it."
On their next possession, the Bucs spackled together a 13-play, 69-yard drive that ended with Matt Bryant kicking his third field goal, a 29-yarder that put them in the lead for good. The Vikings fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Bryant tacked on another field goal. The Vikings had two more chances. First, they turned the ball over on downs. Then a hustle play by defensive tackle Jimmy Wilkerson forced Taylor to fumble to seal the game.
At the team meeting Saturday night, Brooks said the Bucs didn't feel the need to engage in a war of words with the Vikings. They knew Peterson was great but believed their defense might be even greater. "We accepted the challenge that there was no need to say anything," Brooks said. "I think we get out of synch when we're trying to jaw back. We're not good at that. We're good at showing up on Sunday, letting our pads speak for us and we'll say what we've got to say when the game is over."
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 17 November 2008