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Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms played a smart game and made enough big plays for the Bucs to escape Baton Rouge with a 10-3 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Simms had a solid first half. He and wide receiver Joey Galloway hooked up often in the second quarter. In fact, the speedy receiver caught three passes for gains of 15, 16 and 30 yards. Galloway’s last reception, the 30-yarder, came on a slant pattern, and he took pass all the way to the end zone for the Bucs’ first and only touchdown of the game, which put them up 7-0. Simms was 2-of-2 for 49 yards on that five-play, 64-yard drive. Simms caught a huge break in the third quarter when he had a pass batted up in the air behind the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Saints defensive end Darren Howard, who returned the ball to the end zone for a touchdown. However, the play didn’t count thanks to tackle Kenyatta Walker’s false start penalty. Late in the fourth quarter, Simms threw a perfect strike to Galloway in the end zone, but Galloway dropped the pass, which forced the Bucs to punt. Simms completed 12-of-21 passes for 123 yards and tossed one touchdown and no interceptions.
*Tampa Bay was 4-of-12 (33 percent) on third down attempts on Sunday.
Tampa Bay was really committed to running the ball vs. New Orleans defense. The Bucs really attempted to pound the ball on the left side of the offensive line with rookie running back Cadillac Williams, who had a hard time keeping his footing in the first half but made several tough runs that kept the chains moving. Williams rushed 22 times for 96 yards (4.4 avg.). His longest run of the game came in the fourth quarter on a 22-yard scamper.
Bucs RB Michael Pittman hauled in a short screen pass from Simms on third-and-12 in the third quarter and turned it into a 13-yard gain for a first down. One play later, Pittman broke off a 28-yard run to the Saints’ 35-yard line. Pittman finished the game with four carries for 40 yards and two catches for 19 yards.
Fullback Mike Alstott made several key lead blocks, including one on Pittman’s 28-yard run that broke off on the left side of the offensive line.
*The Bucs rushed 30 times for 133 yards (4.4 avg.) on Sunday.
Wide receiver Joey Galloway has a great first half, making a 15-yard catch for a first down in the second quarter. Simms hit Galloway again for a 16-yard gain on the next drive. A few plays later, Simms threw a perfect strike to Galloway on a slant for a 30-yard touchdown with 4:44 remaining in the second quarter. Galloway did a nice job of breaking a tackle en route to the end zone for what would turn out to be Tampa Bay’s only touchdown of the game. In the fourth quarter, Galloway got open down the sideline and in the end zone on a third down play, but he dropped a perfectly thrown ball from Simms. Galloway caught a team-leading five passes for 75 yards and a touchdown vs. the Saints.
Bucs WR Ike Hilliard came up with two key catches in the fourth quarter to help move the chains and move the offense into field goal range. Hilliard’s two catches helped the Bucs engineer a 12-play, 41-yard drive that was capped off by a Todd France field goal. Hilliard caught two passes for 23 yards on Sunday.
Second-year WR Michael Clayton, who returned to LSU Tigers Stadium, where he played collegiately, was held without a catch vs. the Saints.
*Eight of Tampa Bay’s 14 first downs came via the passing game.
Tampa Bay featured a lot of max protect sets vs. New Orleans. These formations called for Bucs TEs Anthony Becht and Alex Smith to stay in and block throughout most of the game. Both players fared decently in the run-blocking department. However, Becht struggled in pass protection. In the third quarter, he allowed Saints DE Will Smith to penetrate the backfield untouched and sack Simms. The quarterback takedown took the Bucs out of field goal range and forced them to punt. Smith caught one pass while Becht caught none on Sunday.
*Simms was sacked just one time on Sunday.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line did a decent job of opening up holes for Williams and Co. to run through. The left side of the line, including left tackle Anthony Davis and left guard Dan Buenning, did an outstanding job in the running game. Right guard Sean Mahan was pulled several times to the left side in an effort to run the ball effectively. Right tackle Kenyatta Walker was penalized two times for false starts on Sunday. The second false start penalty might have been the play of the game for the Bucs since Simms had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Saints DE Darren Howard, who returned the ball to the end zone for a touchdown. The play was negated by Walker’s false start penalty.
* The Bucs produced 248 yards of total offense on Sunday
Tampa Bay’s defensive line was relentless in its pursuit of New Orleans QB Aaron Brooks and the Saints ground attack.
Defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan played exceptionally well, especially vs. the run. In the first quarter, “Booger” busted through the line to stuff New Orleans RB Aaron Stecker for a 5-yard loss. Hovan did a terrific job of fighting off double teams, which allowed his teammates to tackle the ball carriers. While Hovan didn’t notch a tackle, McFarland recorded five.
Defensive end Greg Spires sacked Brooks in the second quarter. He was later called for defensive holding on third down, which kept the Saints’ drive alive. The Saints eventually capped that drive off with a field goal, which made it 7-3 at halftime. Spires finished the game with three tackles and a sack.
Bucs DE Simeon Rice didn’t get much of a pass rush on Brooks, but did record three tackles. Rice did a nice job of defending the run.
Backup DL Ellis Wyms came up big on third-and-goal late in the second quarter when he drilled Brooks in the backfield just as the signal caller released the ball. That hit resulted in an incomplete pass and forced the Saints to settle for a field goal. Wyms notched one tackle on Sunday.
*The Saints rushed 27 times for 65 yards (2.4 avg.). Their longest run was a 9-yarder.
Tampa Bay’s linebackers had a lot to do with New Orleans’ inability to establish the running game. For the most part, LBs Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ryan Nece were solid. However, Brooks did a have a couple of missed tackles, and Quarles was replaced by rookie Barrett Ruud on occasion after being injured. Quarles recorded a team-leading 10 tackles while Brooks notched nine of his own. Nece quietly recorded two takedowns.
While this unit was solid vs. the run, it struggled at times to defend Saints third-string TE Zach Hilton and RB Aaron Stecker on short passes. Both Hilton and Stecker hauled in four passes each.
*The Saints converted 9-of-16 (56 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Bucs.
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber had a fantastic performance Sunday, notching three interceptions and helping to set up a fourth. Barber’s first pick came in the first quarter with the Saints on the Bucs’ 30-yard line. Barber made a miraculous one-handed interception on a pass thrown down the left seam of the field by Brooks. He returned it 43 yards to the Saints’ 44-yard line. Barber’s second interception came in the second quarter on a poorly thrown ball from Brooks. Barber intercepted the pass, which was intended for TE Zach Hilton, on the Bucs’ 36-yard line. That interception set up Tampa Bay’s only scoring drive of the first half. Barber was called for a holding penalty late in the second quarter on third down. That penalty contributed to the Saints’ ability to get a field goal on that drive. In the fourth quarter, Barber was called for holding on a third down pass play, which gave the Saints a first down. But Barber came up huge again late in the fourth quarter when he intercepted a pass from Brooks intended for Horn in the end zone. That pick halted a Saints drive that was threatening to tie the game and secured the victory for the Bucs. Barber finished Sunday’s game with eight tackles, three interceptions and three passes defensed.
Barber’s partner in crime, CB Brian Kelly, notched a sack on a scrambling Brooks on the Saints’ first drive of the game. Kelly and Barber were called for holding late in the second quarter, but only Barber’s was accepted. In the third quarter, Kelly dropped an interception on a bomb down the right sideline intended for Horn. Still, Kelly turned in a big game, recording seven tackles, a sack and two passes defensed while helping to hold Horn to two catches for 40 yards.
Safety Jermaine Phillips and Barber missed tackles on Stecker’s 41-yard gain off a screen pass in the second quarter. Phillips was also caught out of position a couple of times but Brooks overthrew his receivers. Phillips notched two tackles on Sunday.
Bucs S Dexter Jackson came up huge in the third quarter when he intercepted Brooks in the end zone to kill a 15-play drive that was deep in Bucs’ territory. Barber actually had the pick but generously let Jackson come down with it when both players were fighting for the ball. Jackson returned the ball to the 15-yard line. He recorded six tackles and did a nice job defending the run.
*The Bucs only allowed Brooks to complete 18-of-34 passes (52.9 percent) for 215 yards and forced him to throw four interceptions.
Bucs punter Josh Bidwell, who won NFC Special Teams Player of the Month in November, got off a disappointing 20-yard punt after the Bucs went three-and-out on the opening series of the game. However, Bidwell made up for that punt in the second quarter by pinning the Saints offense on their 10-yard line. Bidwell, who averaged just 39.8 yards on five attempts, has seen better games than the one he had on Sunday.
Kicker Todd France started in place of Matt Bryant (hamstring). He saw his first action in the first quarter after Barber’s first pick set the Bucs up near field goal range. But France’s 44-yard attempt was low and blocked by the Saints. France rebounded in the fourth quarter by drilling a 29-yarder, which put the Bucs up 10-3.
Bucs PR Mark Jones’ 16-yard return near the end of the third quarter put the offense at the 50-yard line. He averaged 12 yards per attempt.
Bucs CB Blue Adams failed to down a Bidwell punt at the 10-yard line in the fourth quarter. Instead, the ball took a wicked hop into the end zone for a touchback.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was determined to run the football vs. the Saints, and run it they did. Some of the run plays appeared to be conservative playcalling, but at the end of the day a conservative game plan was in order as turnovers decided this football game.
Speaking of turnovers, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s unit came up with four big ones, including three interceptions by CB Ronde Barber. The Bucs defense bent but didn’t break, and the four interceptions halted Saints drives in Bucs territory and proved to be huge in a game that was decided by just seven points.
*The Bucs were penalized five times for 36 yards on Sunday.
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