Reversal Of Fortune: Defense Rallies Bucs
Guests are supposed to bring gifts, not accept them. The Bucs flew home in a grateful mood Sunday after the breach in etiquette at the Superdome, where a Tampa Bay defense that had feasted on turnovers in recent weeks registered a bizarre late takeaway that proved decisive.
"At the end of the day, Saints coach Sean Payton took a risk - and it backfired on him," Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber said after the Bucs rallied past New Orleans 27-23. "It was not something I expected."
Tampa Bay was out of timeouts and trailing 23-20 when Payton gambled at midfield by calling a reverse to wide receiver Devery Henderson.
Reggie Bush took a handoff from Drew Brees heading toward the left sidelines, but when he attempted to flip it to Henderson, the ball tumbled to the ground and Jovan Haye recovered the fumble for the Bucs.
"I know Sean's personality is to go for the jugular," Barber said. "It was the play of the game, no question. We didn't have a takeaway at that point and we knew we had to make a play. Fortunately, they helped us out."
The Bucs' defense, which had 12 takeaways in the previous three games, yielded two big completions as Drew Brees threw a 45-yard touchdown to Henderson and hit Marques Colston for 40 yards to set up Terrance Copper's 4-yard scoring catch. But the Saints' offense was held scoreless after intermission and Payton's controversial call is likely to haunt him the entire offseason.
"I knew it was a reverse because I saw Reggie Bush slowing down," said Haye, who also registered one of Tampa Bay's three sacks. "The next thing I knew, it was a fumble and I was on top of the ball. That was the play that gave us a chance. It was our only takeaway, but it came at the best time."
Buc defenders were quick to credit an attack that gouged the Saints for 466 yards and converted a critical fourth-and-1 when Coach Jon Gruden could have brought out Matt Bryant for a potential tying field goal.
"That was dumb," cornerback Brian Kelly said of Payton's risky reverse call. "This one was huge because it was a must-win game for them and we overcame some adversity. Give credit to our offense today and Coach Gruden for showing some courage by going for it on fourth down."
The Saints punted on their first four possessions of the second half before Bush's critical gaffe generated groans from a crowd of 70,009 that was hoping New Orleans would make things interesting in the NFC South. Instead, the defending division champions must win out and hope the Bucs lose their final four games.
"Taking care of business is our motto around here," Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "We came here to New Orleans treating it strictly as a business trip. We weren't here to check out Bourbon Street. Now we're going to put our ties and jackets on, get on the plane back to Tampa and prepare for Houston."
While Payton was beating himself up for the disastrous flanker reverse, the jubilant Bucs have set themselves up for a third division title in six years.
"I really like where we're sitting right now and our defense is playing outstanding," said quarterback Jeff Garcia, who didn't play because of a deep lower-back bruise that still had him moving stiffly Sunday. "There's a special feeling to this team and it's great to see how closely all these guys have come together. I'm definitely excited about where this team is headed."
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune 3 December 2007