Red Hot With The Red Flag
Simeon Rice wasn't concerned. The Bucs' defensive end was prepared to take the field after the New Orleans Saints intercepted a Chris Simms' pass early in the fourth quarter. "I could [not] care less. I'm nutty like that," Rice said. "If you put our defense in that situation, we're going to be triumphant."

Rice, it turned out, had reason to be nonchalant. Up by only four points, Tampa Bay challenged the ruling on the field that Saints linebacker Ronald McKinnon picked off Simms' pass intended for receiver Joey Galloway. And the Bucs won. After reviewing the play, officials ruled the ball touched the ground.

Instead of the Saints getting the ball at Tampa Bay's 25-yard line, the Bucs maintained possession and drove for a field goal. "It just gave us momentum back," Michael Pittman said of the ruling. "That would have been big right there if they kept that ball. We were only up by [four] points. So it gave momentum back to this team."

When the Bucs got the ball back, they ate up nearly five minutes of game clock, driving down the field to the Saints' 8-yard line. Kicker Matt Bryant capped off the drive with a 26-yard field goal, giving the Bucs a seven-point lead. "That was big, just from the sense that we hadn't moved the ball a whole lot in the second half," Simms said. "We needed it. New Orleans is a good defense. They were putting it to us there for a little while in the second half."

New Orleans' offense immediately took the field after the apparent turnover, which didn't give Tampa Bay a lot of time to check out the replays. Coach Jon Gruden admitted they took a chance in throwing the red flag for the challenge. "I am red hot now on challenges," Gruden said. "That was a big play. We tried to throw the ball to Galloway underneath their double zone and the ball was tipped. The linebacker made a great effort. It was close enough to challenge. They rushed their offense out onto the field and we didn't get a chance to really look at it. But we kind of threw that flag hoping the ball hit the ground."

Tampa Bay lost a string of challenges earlier in the season, but after winning several of them recently, Gruden has become a big fan of the instant-replay system. "I will vote for it again," Gruden said, "if I'm invited."

Katherine Smith, The Tampa Tribune 2 January 2006