Bucs were in it, but then ...
The Bucs almost went into halftime against New Orleans feeling good against the NFC's best team. Tampa Bay had possession at its 25-yard line trailing 10-7 with 2:09 remaining in the second quarter. But a three-and-out possession, including consecutive incomplete passes, took little time off the clock and gave the Saints' top-ranked offense a golden opportunity.
New Orleans not only took a 17-7 lead, but also grabbed momentum heading into halftime. "We've got to be able to buckle down when times are tough, face a little adversity, keep people out of the end zone on defense and not turn the ball over on offense," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We're our own Trojan horse. We bring the fight to ourselves and we're killing ourselves."
Last week, Tampa Bay took a 23-22 lead with 1:14 left against Miami, but the two-minute defense self destructed. The Dolphins drove 77 yards in five plays for a winning 25-yard field goal with 10 seconds left.
Tampa Bay started to fall apart against New Orleans after running back Cadillac Williams rushed for no gain on first down just before the two-minute warning. The Bucs elected to pass on second-and-10, but quarterback Josh Freeman's attempt to Antonio Bryant was incomplete. On third-and-10, Freeman's pass to Sammie Stroughter also was incomplete, forcing the Bucs to punt with 1:49 left.
The consecutive incompletions used only 11 seconds of the game clock. New Orleans took over on its own 37-yard line with 1:38 remaining and went into its two-minute offense. As a result, Bucs linebacker Barrett Rudd had to defend Saints receiver Marques Colston, who took advantage of the mismatch. Colston caught three passes on the Saints' five-play, 63-yard drive, which ended with Drew Brees' 6-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem against safety Tanard Jackson.
"They did a great job of putting three receivers on the same side to get the best match," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "Put Ronde on a wide out, Aqib on a wideout and getting Barrett matched up on Colston. Hurry-up tempo and not allow (us) to get Barrett off Marques Colston. You don't have time to do it.
"By the time you do it, you blink and you're in the red zone. Two plays, boom-boom. In the red zone, you're able to get lined up the way you want to. (Brees) makes a great, dynamic throw on Tanard Jackson in the back of the end zone, which he actually threw under his arm to his receiver, which is a Drew Brees-like play. It's too late. You blink, and Drew Brees makes you pay."
The touchdown ended up being a backbreaker, because Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman fumbled on his team's opening possession in the third quarter. Three plays later, Brees threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Thomas, as New Orleans took a 24-7 lead. The Saints went on to win 38-7.
"Anytime you give a team like that momentum going into the half, and instead of holding them to three they get a touchdown, it's frustrating," Jackson said. "We put ourselves in a tough situation, but even a that point down 10, we're still in the game coming out in the second half. We have the ball, and from there on, they made more plays than we did."
Anwar Richardson, The Tampa Tribune 23 November 2009