Tenacious `D' Just Cover Band
The Bucs defense spent most of Sunday afternoon harassing Aaron Brooks, frequently introducing the Saints quarterback to the Raymond James Stadium turf. Brooks was on his back often as Tampa Bay recorded a season-high seven sacks. The defense dictated the pace of a game in which it yielded just 206 yards of total offense - before the Saints' final fateful possession.

The NFL's fifth-best defense acted confident. The Bucs used television timeouts to pump up the crowd, including Simeon Rice's air-guitar rendition of Guns N' Roses' head- banging anthem ``Welcome to the Jungle'' that elevated the stadium's decibel level. Tampa Bay entered the fourth quarter Sunday having not allowed an offensive touchdown in 13 quarters at home, but the bend-but- don't-break defense picked the worst time to snap - and along with it, any realistic shot the Bucs had of making the playoffs.

Following running back Michael Pittman's controversial late fourth-quarter fumble, the Saints went 41 yards for the game-winning score to defeat the Bucs, 21-17. And despite another solid effort from the Bucs defense, they were left to ponder another frustrating fourth-quarter loss. ``If I had any answers, we could fix it,'' Derrick Brooks said. ``We just find any way to close that window of opportunity. I'm a believer in the fact that you get what you deserve, and they deserved to win and we didn't.''

Even on that final drive, the Bucs defense forced New Orleans backward at first. Rice stuffed Saints running back Deuce McAllister for a 2-yard loss on second down. An incompletion brought up a fourth-and-12 from the Tampa Bay 43-yard line that could have iced the game. But that's when Aaron Brooks came back to burn the Bucs, running a keeper through the heart of Tampa Bay's defense for a 13-yard gain and a first down. ``We're just not the type of team that can make those type of mistakes and win the game,'' safety Dwight Smith said. ``You just try to stay in your lanes, and he probably saw a crease and made the play. That's what good athletes do. They make big plays.``

The Bucs dropped back into zone coverage, allowing the Saints' quarterback to find a hole in their defense. ``It was one of those things where you either make that big play or you go home with a loss and no hope for a playoff chance,'' Aaron Brooks said.

The Saints then made Tampa Bay's defense appear ordinary. Following a pivotal 22- yard pass to tight end Boo Williams over the middle, Brooks hit wide receiver Donte' Stallworth on a quick slant for 7 yards between cornerback Ronde Barber and safety Dexter Jackson, just past the goal line for the touchdown. ``We had that game on our shoulders and we gave it away,'' defensive lineman Greg Spires said. ``If I stop the guy on that [13-yard] scramble we win the game.''

Eduardo Encina The Tampa Tribune 20 December 2004