Bucs overcome sins, beat Saints
Michelle Kaufman, The St.Petersburg Times, published 25 September 1989

It was an unsightly game - 20 penalties for 172 yards, a stadium that was less than two-thirds filled, and temporary knockouts of two quarterbacks. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came out looking pretty with a 20-10 win over the New Orleans Saints, and in the end, dey who wins is all dat matters. The Bucs had lost the last six times they played against the team that is celebrated in the cheer “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?”

The Bucs, 2-1 for just the third time this decade, sit alone in second place in the NFC Central Division behind Chicago (3-0). They travel to Minnesota next week for a game against the Vikings (1-2), who lost 27-14 to Pittsburgh Sunday.

Sunday's game was the seventh straight in which the Bucs were either tied or leading in the fourth quarter, dating back to last season. They won four times and lost three in that stretch. “I don't think you can call us up-and-coming anymore,” said center Randy Grimes. “We're there. We're ready to play anyone. It's just a matter of ironing out details and getting a few breaks. We beat two pretty good teams and lost close to a great one. That says a lot.”

Wide receiver Bruce Hill was one of several players who said the Bucs of 1988 wouldn't have won a game in which they lost 95 yards on 10 penalties and fumbled four times. “If this would have been us last year, we would've probably lost,” Hill said. “But now, deep down, we know we can win games, even if we make mistakes. Last year, we were hoping to win.”

The Bucs' penalties included four for unsportsmanlike conduct. The culprits: defensive linemen Reuben Davis and Shawn Lee, safety Mark Robinson, and coach Ray Perkins. The coach was perturbed when Lee was called for shoving guard Steve Trapilo, and he let line judge Tom Fincken know it. Fincken answered with a yellow flag at Perkins' feet. The crowd of 44,053 booed. “I used a choice word, which was uncalled for,” said Perkins. “I apologized to the players and told them I'd contribute $2,000 to the fine kitty. I was just upset because 99 times out of 100 in a situation like that, you get off-setting penalties.”

Lee said: “I'm an intense player, and I didn't feel like taking any dash. He hit me first, and I retaliated, but the ref only saw my part.”

The back-to-back 15-yard penalties, coupled with a 7-yard run by Dalton Hilliard, pushed the Saints (1-2) from their own 15-yard line to the Bucs' 48 with two minutes left in the first half. New Orleans ended up tying the game, 10-10, on the drive with a 33-yard field goal by Morten Andersen as the clock ticked down before intermission. The Saints took a 7-0 lead with a game-opening drive that was typical New Orleans. The 12 plays covered 80 yards and ate up 8 minutes and 25 seconds. Hilliard, who led the Saints with 122 all-purpose yards, was responsible for 34 of the yards on the drive, including the 1-yard touchdown run.

Bobby Hebert, the Saints' starting quarterback, left the game with a slight concussion and a missing front tooth cap right before Hilliard's touchdown. The knee of Bucs safety Mark Robinson hit the back of Hebert's head on the previous play as the quarterback tried to run into the end zone on third down from the Bucs' 11.

Cornerback Ricky Reynolds had dragged Hebert down at the 2-yard line when Robinson dove into the play. Robinson was penalized for a late hit, a call the safety disputes. “He was ducking his head and turning inside to get the touchdown, and I tried to stop him,” Robinson said. “The second I realized he was down, I tried to dive over him, but my knee hit his head. I didn't mean to hit him, but I can't sit there and think, `Oh-oh, here's a quarterback who makes a lot of money, so be careful.' I have to treat anyone who's about to score the same way.”

Hebert was 4-of-4 for 36 yards at the time. He was replaced by John Fourcade. The Bucs then put together a time-consuming scoring drive of their own. They marched 63 yards in 16 plays, and a 34-yard field goal by Donald Igwebuike made it 7-3 with 13:54 left in the first half.

The field goal wouldn't have been possible had receiver Mark Carrier not made two clutch, third-down catches. The first was a 20-yard grab inches from cornerback Milton Mack on a third-and-10 situation. Then, on third-and-6 from the Saints' 31, Carrier managed to keep both feet inbounds as he pulled down an 11-yard Vinny Testaverde pass. Officials had ruled him out of bounds, but reversed the call after reviewing the replay.

Testaverde, who completed 15 of 26 passes for 227 yards Sunday, threw his only interception of the afternoon on the Bucs' next drive. It was a long pass intended for rookie Danny Peebles, but rookie cornerback Robert Massey snagged it, instead. Tampa Bay made the silliest miscue of the day on their next possession. Halfback Lars Tate misunderstood his assignment, and went into motion, forcing Testaverde to call a timeout. Tate was yanked and replaced by Don Smith, who proceeded to run full-speed past the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped. The crowd laughed as officials threw flags. “It's funny now, but it was embarrassing out there,” Testaverde said. “It was stupid. It made us look like a junior high team."

Smith made up for it with a 17-yard run on the next play, and Peebles made his first NFL catch (a 22-yarder) to put the Bucs on the Saints' 5-yard line. Tight end Ron Hall caught an 11-yard touchdown, the second of his career, with 2:53 left in the half to give Tampa Bay the lead. Peebles, who said it was “a relief” to finally catch a ball, left the game with a dislocated shoulder a few minutes into the second half. He sustained the injury while playing on the punt team, and is expected to miss at least one week.

The Saints tied the game before the half, but they may have taken the lead had Fourcade not hurt his leg after a 7-yard run to the Bucs' 16-yard line. Fourcade had to be carted off into the locker room. At that point, the Saints didn't have a third quarterback, so they kicked on second-and-13 from the 16. Fourcade surprised the crowd when he started the second half, but Hebert went back in soon thereafter.

Robinson intercepted a Fourcade pass early in the second half, and the Bucs got the winning touchdown out of it. Lars Tate ran it in from 5 yards out, after Testaverde completed four passes for 40 yards. “We proved last week's close game with the 49ers wasn't a fluke,” said Tate. “We're a good team.”

Hebert returned on the next series, and moved the Saints for 12 plays, but Andersen missed the field-goal attempt. A 37-yard Igwebuike field goal sealed the Bucs' victory with 12:31 left in the game. “This win is exactly what we needed,” said Grimes. “The momentum we get from this cannot be described. I feel great about this team. We're going to surprise some people. Watch.”