Simeon Answers The Call
Jon Gruden apparently knows whose buttons he can push. Tampa Bay's desperate coach called out Simeon Rice this week, and the Pro Bowl defensive end responded with a dominating effort in Sunday's 14-7 victory.
In a game marked by defensive contributions throughout the lineup, it was Rice who set a dynamic tone with three sacks, five tackles and a forced fumble. ``Coach said he needed it from me today,'' said Rice, who also registered three sacks here last season when he abused Kyle Turley. ``He put it on my back to get things going and I wanted to make him proud. Once I sparked things, my teammates stepped up big.''
With help from blitzing, slanting linebackers, the Bucs consistently got to Deuce McAllister before the league's hottest runner could get started. ``Deuce was fully rested, fully healthy and he was going for some history,'' Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. ``And we were going to do something about it.''
Seeking his 10th consecutive 100-yard game, McAllister settled for 69 yards on the ground and three catches for 19 yards. ``They were putting eight or nine in the box,'' McAllister said, ``and they had a pretty good scheme. We just didn't make the plays today.''
After compiling 13 first downs before intermission, the Saints finished with 16. Quarterback Aaron Brooks was hounded into seven sacks and three lost fumbles. ``Offense, defense, special teams, we all played stellar,'' Rice said. ``We got a big play from Greg Spires and then Derrick Brooks sealed the deal. Throughout our struggle, I'm having my best year and I'm going to keep pushing the envelope.''
Spires waited until the 13th game to post his first sack, but it was a big one. Midway through the fourth quarter, Spires hit Brooks from behind, forcing a fumble recovered by Chartric Darby at the Tampa Bay 9-yard line. ``I've been waiting 14 weeks for that and it was nice,'' Spires said. ``We got back to playing in a frenzy and feeding off each other. Everyone was flying around and that sack came at a time we really needed it.''
Derrick Brooks capped an outstanding effort by bringing McAllister down in the right flat on a fourth-down swing pass, ending the final New Orleans possession. ``We played hard as a team today,'' Brooks said. ``A lot of people said we were wounded, down and out, but we accepted the challenge. I saw Deuce and I broke for the ball with the intentions of a collision. I told myself, `He's not getting a first down,' and on that particular play, the pendulum swung my way.''
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin credited the defensive line for winning the battle up front and cornerback Ronde Barber found himself shaking his head at a familiar sight. ``Simeon Rice is Superman for us,'' Barber said. ``I've kind of come to expect him to do the things he did today.''
Gruden, thankful for the overall defensive performance, couldn't stop talking about No. 97 as he walked out of the Superdome. ``I told Simeon I was starving, my wife was starving and my kids were starving,'' Gruden said. `I told him, `We eat off your tree.' Then he goes out and plays an unbelievable game like that. That's the type of guy we're going to build this football team around.''