France Comes Through For Bucs
It's been quite a week for Todd France. Preparing for a stint in the Arena Football League with the Philadelphia Soul, the team owned by Jon Bon Jovi and Ron Jaworski that signed him late last month, France got a phone call from the Bucs. His services were needed after Matt Bryant, the kicker who beat out France for the Bucs job in training camp, strained his hamstring against Chicago last week.
"It's been good," said France, who was signed to Tampa Bay's practice squad Tuesday. "It was helpful that I was with the team over at training camp over the summer and know all the guys here. I was just mentally getting ready to expect to play."
Tampa Bay activated France to the 53-man roster Saturday in anticipation that Bryant would be inactive for Sunday's game. After missing a week of practice with the hamstring injury, Bryant should return this week. "We think he's getting close," Jon Gruden said.
France's first field goal attempt didn't produce the results the Bucs were hoping for in Bryant's absence. New Orleans DE Darren Howard got credit for blocking the 43-yard attempt in the first quarter, but France kicked it low. He redeemed himself in the fourth quarter when he nailed a 28-yard field goal with a little more than nine minutes remaining.
"I thought he made a big field goal and kicked off well," Gruden said. "Give him credit. He just got reacquainted with a lot of guys that he really doesn't know and kicked in a big game that we won."
Sitting room only
Louisiana native and LSU alumnus WR Michael Clayton needed 100 tickets for Sunday's game in Baton Rouge and didn't have any problem getting them. In fact, he could have secured at least 10 times that amount. A sign on LSU's Tiger Stadium scoreboard stated "Welcome to Death Valley," an appropriate welcome for the ghost town-like atmosphere. New Orleans officials announced that 34,411 tickets were distributed for Sunday's game, but significantly fewer fans were actually in the stands. "It was a little different," Clayton said. "I could never imagine LSU stadium being this empty."
Clayton shut out again
Clayton's supporters in the stands watched him fail to get a reception for the second consecutive week. It's the third time this year last season's Rookie of the Year runner-up failed to make a catch. On Sunday, the ball was never thrown his way. "It's a long season and there are still opportunities," Clayton said. "You just wait and try to do your best to get in the offense and get balls. Sometimes it's not going to happen, [so] you stay positive. We have total faith that we're going to the playoffs, and in a playoff run everybody's going to forget what happens during the season."
WR Joey Galloway led the team with a game-high five receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown. Ike Hilliard was second with two catches for 23 yards, his first receptions in three games. "I knew what I was getting into coming into this situation [in Tampa]," Hilliard said. "I try to be the consummate professional. This is a team sport and I've never been a selfish guy. My job is to fill in on plays whenever I can."
CB Juran Bolden suffered a lower back strain in the first half. He was replaced by Torrie Cox, but Bolden was able to return in the fourth quarter. S Dexter Jackson was slow to get back to the Bucs' sideline after returning an interception for 21 yards midway through the third quarter. Jackson, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury all season, remained in the game.
New Orleans converted nine of 16 third downs. The Bucs were only 4-for-12 on third down.
Josh Bidwell extended his streak of consecutive games with a punt of at least 50 yards to 13, the second longest active streak. Bidwell kicked a 51-yarder in the second quarter.
CB Brian Kelly's sack on New Orleans' first play from scrimmage was his first since the Oct. 6, 2002 game against Atlanta.