Barth's overtime field goal sends Bucs past Saints
Raheem Morris says there's no such thing as a statement game, but the Bucs seemed to make a rather definitive statement in racking up a 20-17 victory over the Saints on Sunday at the Superdome. Amid a report claiming the Bucs have contacted Bill Cowher about their head coach's job, the Bucs fought back from a 17-0 deficit to turn in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.

The Bucs are the only two-win team to record a victory against a 13-win team, according to STATS LLC, and while that entry in the history books may well leave the Bucs smiling, it's the present that suddenly has them gleaming. Coupled with their victory at Seattle, the Bucs have won consecutive games for the first time since November 2008.

"I've been around this league long enough to know that teams like ours at this time of year just tend to quit," Bucs running back Earnest Graham said. "They don't have anything left to play for, and they think their coach is going to be fired, and so they just quit.

"But that's not the character of this team. We had our back against the wall again today and we could have just laid down and said, 'Oh, it's the Saints,' and 'Here we go again,' but we didn't. We made some adjustments (on defense), we stuck with the run (on offense) and showed some resiliency.

"And that's what you look for in a young team. I mean, we've been looking all year to make progress and this shows that we are moving forward and starting to make some steady progress. Instead of backtracking every other week like we were, we're definitely getting better."

Morris is clearly at the heart of the turnaround. Yet, a report on NFL.com early Sunday said the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, contacted former Super Bowl winner Cowher to gauge his interest in coaching Tampa Bay in 2010. A source close to the Glazer family told The Tampa Tribune the report on NFL.com was not true. Bucs officials declined to comment, but Morris said he was not threatened.

"I've got a great relationship with my owners, and the thing I know about those guys is they didn't hire me last year to meet me," said Morris, who first joined the team as an assistant in 2002. "I have a seven-year relationship with them, so I'm pretty sure if I was getting popped or fired or whatever you want to call it, my owners would come to me as men and tell me because that's who they are."

Morris took control of the Bucs defense, relieving coordinator Jim Bates of his duties after a 38-7 loss to New Orleans on Nov. 22. That unit's effort in Sunday's rematch against the Saints, who could have clinched the top seed in the NFC with a victory, extended a run that has seen the Bucs regain their once-formidable defensive form.

A unit that surrendered 378 yards and 29 points per game during the first 10 games of the season held the Saints scoreless for the final 43 minutes Sunday. The defense has allowed 333.8 yards and 17.4 points per game in five games since the change.

The offense is starting to show signs of improvement, too, largely because the Bucs are making a greater commitment to a running game. Tampa Bay rushed for 176 yards against the Saints, including 129 by Cadillac Williams.

"In the past, we would have gone away from the run in a game like we had today, but today we stuck with it, and that was the key for us offensively," center Jeff Faine said. "Even when it was 17-0, we still stuck with the run."

A 23-yard touchdown run by Williams cut the Saints' lead to 17-10 with 13:14 to play in the fourth quarter. By then the Bucs defense was humming, forcing a fumble and a punt on the Saints' first two fourth-quarter possessions.

The punt proved quite pivotal as Micheal Spurlock returned it 77 yards for a game-tying touchdown. Still, it wasn't until Saints kicker Garrett Hartley missed a 37-yard field goal try that overtime was assured.

The Bucs left the overtime session to Williams, who sandwiched 40 yards of rushing gains around an 8-yard scramble by rookie quarterback Josh Freeman on a third-and-5 play to set up Connor Barth's 47-yard winning field goal.

"It was a well-fought game by a really proud football team," Morris said. "I always knew they had this in them and I've felt all along that they were getting better. But I think this proves that to you guys - to the writers and to our fans and to all the people that love us."

With one game left before a decision on Morris has to be made, Morris' players are playing and talking like a team that wants him back.

"Like I've said before, I'm 100 percent behind Coach Morris," Faine said. "I think he's a bright young head coach that's got a lot of potential in front of him. We've got a young franchise quarterback that we're trying to build around, and in the last couple of games we've started to develop some momentum. He's got a lot to do with that, and so I really think it would be a bad move to walk away from him now."

Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune 29 December 2009