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DEFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay's defensive line only allowed New Orleans, which was without Deuce McAllister (knee), to rush for 101 yards on 27 carries (3.1 avg.), but the Bucs front four failed to generate the pressure needed to disrupt and limit quarterback Drew Brees and New Orleans offense. The Saints' longest run of the game came courtesy of running back Reggie Bush, who took advantage of the over pursuit of Tampa Bay's defensive line on a cutback run, which resulted in a 26-yard gain in the third quarter.
This unit recorded just one sack, which came in the third quarter when defensive end Greg White brought down Brees to set up a third-and-16 play from the Bucs' 18-yard line. He finished the game with three tackles and one sack. It also came up huge late in the fourth quarter by stuffing three straight running plays to force the Saints to punt the ball back to the Bucs with no timeouts remaining.
Nose tackle Chris Hovan was extremely active in the trenches, notching seven tackles vs. the Saints. Under tackle Jovan Haye recorded just one tackle. Second-year DE Gaines Adams had a quiet and disappointing game. He did not notch a tackle or a sack vs. the Saints.
New Orleans produced 438 yards of total offense vs. Tampa Bay's defense on Sunday.
LINEBACKERS Tampa Bay used seven-man fronts quite a bit vs. New Orleans in order to limit quarterback Drew Brees' ability to test the Buccaneers deep. While they had mixed results vs. the pass, the linebackers' biggest contributions came via the blitz, which was huge since the front four did not have much success pressuring Brees.
On a second-and-21 play midway through the first quarter, Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud blitzed and drilled Brees as he attempted to throw the ball. That hit caused Brees' pass to float on him, which allowed cornerback Phillip Buchanon to haul it in for the interception and return it 26 yards for a touchdown, which tied the game at 7-7. Ruud finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles.
Strongside linebacker Cato June recovered a loose ball from Bush and returned it for a touchdown in the second quarter, but the play was ruled incomplete. June notched five tackles vs. the Saints.
Tampa Bay's defense has the speed to match up well with Bush, but the elusive back proved to be difficult to stop on Sunday.
Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks took a poor angle on Bush's catch and run in the flat on the second series of the game. Brooks, who finished the game with three tackles, tweaked a hamstring in the second half and did not return to action. Tampa Bay used Matt McCoy to help fill Brooks' shoes, but New Orleans took advantage of the 10-time Pro Bowler's absence. In the fourth quarter, McCoy was a second late in covering a crossing route by Bush, who hauled in the pass from Brees and eluded McCoy, safety Tanard Jackson, S Jermaine Phillips and cornerback Ronde Barber en route to diving into the end zone for a 42-yard score, which proved to be the game-winning touchdown. McCoy notched one tackle vs. the Saints. McCoy wasn't the only Bucs defender that had trouble covering Bush, evidenced by his eight receptions for 112 yards (14.0 avg.) and touchdown.
New Orleans converted 5-of-13 (38 percent) of its third down attempts vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday.
SECONDARY New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees torched Tampa Bay's defense for big yardage on Sunday, and his three big touchdown throws proved to be the difference in this contest.
On the first offensive series of the game for the Saints on a third down play, Brees dropped back and fired a deep pass to wide receiver David Patten. Bucs rookie cornerback Aqib Talib appeared to be beat on the play, but what made matters even worse was his poor timing on a jump in an effort to defend the pass. Talib leaped prematurely, which allowed Patten to haul in the pass for a 39-yard touchdown. That play capped off a 76-yard drive, and Brees was 4-of-4 on that series. Talib had one tackle vs. the Saints.
Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon helped to make up for that mistake later in the first quarter when linebacker Barrett Ruud drilled Brees on a blitz. That caused Brees' pass to float and allowed Buchanon to haul it in and return it 26 yards for a touchdown, which tied the game at 7-7. Midway through the second quarter, Buchanon slipped and fell in coverage with the Saints backed up on their own 1-yard line. That allowed WR Marques Colston to get up and catch a ball for a 14-yard gain. Buchanon notched four tackles vs. the Saints.
Tampa Bay CB Ronde Barber was extremely physical vs. New Orleans' receivers. In the second quarter, Bush caught a pass in the flat but lost control of the ball due to Barber's huge hit on him. Linebacker Cato June recovered the ball and returned it for a touchdown, but the pass was ruled incomplete. The hits kept coming in the third quarter when Barber forced an incompletion by drilling Colston on a slant play. But Barber fell victim to Brees' aerial attack with less than one minute remaining in the third quarter when he fired a deep pass down the sideline to WR Devery Henderson. Brees essentially had a free down since the Bucs were offsides on the play, and he made it count thanks to Barber losing his balance and footing, and falling to the turf. That mishap left Henderson wide open for a 84-yard touchdown. Barber had three tackles on Sunday.
Free safety Tanard Jackson had a productive outing vs. the Saints. On the third drive of the game with the Saints in a third-and-6 situation, Jackson did a nice job of timing Brees' pass to Colston to cause the incompletion. Late in the second quarter, Jackson came up huge on a third-and-11 play when he defended a deep pass across the middle of the field from Brees. On the next series, Jackson showed great run defense skills by stuffing RB Reggie Bush on a perimeter run for a loss. Jackson finished the game with seven tackles.
Jackson and Barber were the closest players to Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey when he hauled in a 26-yard pass from Brees down the left seam in the third quarter. A few plays later, Shockey caught another pass from Brees to give the Saints a first down at the Bucs' 23-yard line. New Orleans eventually kicked a field goal. Shockey finished the game with six catches for 54 yards.
Strong safety Jermaine Phillips had a good tackle on Bush for a loss on a draw play on second series of the game. He notched four tackles on Sunday.
As expected, second-year S Sabby Piscitelli saw action on defense vs. the Saints. Tampa Bay appeared to use him as a safety and cornerback. He didn't disappoint. On a third-and-6 play in the second quarter, Piscitelli showed good recognition and closing speed by tackling Colston, who had just three catches for 26 yards on Sunday, just short of a first down. Late in the second quarter, Piscitelli blitzed off the edge and came in free to allow Ruud to tackle Shockey on a screen play, which resulted in 1-yard loss. Piscitelli had one tackle vs. the Saints.
Brees completed 23-of-32 (71.8 percent) passes for 343 yards and tossed three touchdowns and one interception vs. the Bucs.
SPECIAL TEAMS Bucs punter Josh Bidwell might have been the Bucs' best offensive weapon on the field on Sunday. After Tampa Bay's offense went three-and-out to start the game, Bidwell got off a 60-yard punt that pinned New Orleans' offense down on its own 9-yard line in the first quarter. Near the end of the first quarter, Bidwell pinned the Saints offense down on their own 14-yard line after Tampa Bay's offense failed to capitalize on solid starting field position. Midway through the second quarter, Bidwell got off his best punt of the game. The ball landed inside the 10-yard line and bounced towards the goal line. Bucs second-year linebacker Quincy Black fielded the ball and tossed it back to rookie cornerback Aqib Talib before he went into the end zone. Talib downed the ball on the 1-yard line. Bidwell finished the game with eight punts for 353 yards (44.1 avg.) and pinned four of those attempts inside the 20-yard line.
Kicker Matt Bryant left his preseason woes behind him when he drilled a 37-yard field goal with just three seconds remaining in the first half. Bryant's field goal gave the Bucs a 10-7 lead. He came through again late in the third quarter when he nailed a 32-yard field goal to put the Bucs up 13-10. Bryant finished the game 2-of-2 on field goal attempts.
Tampa Bay rookie return specialist Dexter Jackson was ineffective vs. New Orleans throughout most of the game. The Bucs actually benched Jackson at the start of the third quarter and replaced him with Ike Hilliard on a punt return. Hilliard gained 11 yards on the play. But Jackson returned to action after that. Although he averaged just 5.8 yards on five attempts, Jackson's 14-yard punt return late in the fourth quarter gave Tampa Bay's offense the ball at the 49-yard line. The offense failed to capitalize on that starting field position. Jackson also averaged 28 yards per kickoff return on three attempts, including a 33-yarder.
The Bucs' special teams coverage units were stellar on Sunday. The Saints averaged 5 yards per punt return and just 13.4 yards per kickoff return vs. Tampa Bay. Fullback Byron Storer led the way with two special teams takedowns.
Bucs backup middle linebacker Matt McCoy was called for an illegal block in the back on one of Jackson's punt returns in the first half.
COACHING Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's unit uncharacteristically allowed New Orleans to post 438 yards of offense and three long pass plays that made up for 165 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that is designed to prevent big plays. Still, this unit kept Tampa Bay in the game while the Bucs offense struggled mightily through the first three quarters of the game. The biggest concern for Kiffin has to be the lack of pass rush generates by his front four. Tampa Bay notched just one sack vs. New Orleans on Sunday. To his credit, Kiffin dialed up a few blitzes that helped pressure Brees, but in the end it wasn't enough.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's offense was inept for most of Sunday's game. His offense produced 352 yards, but was just 2-of-12 on third downs. The offense didn't score its first touchdown of the game until the fourth quarter. Gruden opened up the playbook and passing game in the fourth quarter when the Bucs trailed the Saints, and that proved to be more effective than the team's game plan through the first three quarters. The offensive surge proved to be too little too late for Gruden and Co.
Tampa Bay was penalized seven times for 66 yards vs. New Orleans.
Bucs special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia had his guys prepared for Sunday's game. The coverage units and punter Josh Bidwell were excellent, and kicker Matt Bryant bounced back from a disappointing preseason by making 2-of-2 field goals. Dexter Jackson and the return game need some work.