Tampa Bay's defense was on the sidelines more than it was on the field, but made the majority of their reps count. Despite giving up two deep pass routes and 14 points in the first half, the defense stepped up and held the Saints scoreless in the second half. The defensive line finally got some pressure on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. The Bucs recorded three sacks, all three coming in the second half against an offensive line that had only allowed an NFL-best eight sacks this season.
The defensive line struggled to get any pass rush on Brees in the first half. The Bucs failed to record a sack in the half and allowed Brees to sit in the pocket on two deep pass routes. The first came in the first quarter when the Saints used a flea-flicker to get deep for a 40-yard reception from Brees to wide receiver Marques Colston. The second on came when Brees used a play-action to allow wide receiver Devery Henderson to get deep for a 45-yard touchdown reception.
Rookie defensive end Gaines Adams came up with a big sack in the third quarter on a third-and-6 play. The Bucs defense ran a double stunt with the tackles and ends as the ends dove inside as the tackles pushed the line to the outside. The middle opened up and Brees stepped up right into the waiting arms of Adams.
Defensive ends Kevin Carter and Greg White got key pressures on Brees on the first Saints possession in the fourth quarter. The Bucs defense needed a big stand to get the ball back to offense trailing 21-20. Carter, who had three tackles, forced Brees to throw the ball short to running back Reggie Bush for only a 2-yard gain. White came on another inside stunt and nailed Brees just as he was throwing the pass, which was behind tight end Eric Johnson.
Defensive tackle Jovan Haye, who had some struggles in the running game vs. the Saints, was at the right place at the right time in the biggest play of the game. On a botched pitch on a reverse play from Bush to Henderson, Haye was there to pounce on the fumble and give the ball back to the offense to win the game. Haye finished the game with two tackles and one sack.
With six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Saints needing a hail mary pass to win the game and the defensive line made sure Brees didn't even get a shot to throw the ball. Haye and White meet at the quarterback with a sack to finish the game for the Bucs.
New Orleans' offense produced 246 yards and converted 5-of-11 (45 percent) of its third down attempts vs. Tampa Bay. The Saints racked up most of its yards in the first half and coming on two long passes to Henderson and Colston.
The Bucs linebackers did a good job of spying on Bush and containing him so that he couldn't make the momentum-changing play. Bush had 64 yards (4.9 avg.) on 13 carries and three receptions for 13 yards, but was kept out of the end zone and didn't have the explosion plays that the Saints offense need from him.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks made it a point to hit Bush as hard as he could any time he touched the ball. The fragile running back had to leave the game multiple times due to nagging injuries. Brooks put Bush on the sideline with 8:02 remaining in the fourth quarter on a 5-yard run. The veteran linebacker put his helmet right on the hip of the second-year running back, putting him on the bench for the rest of the offensive possession. Brooks led the defense with nine tackle, eight of the solo version.
Linebacker Cato June did a solid job in defending the pass, especially Bush and running back Aaron Stecker out of the backfield. He finished the game with six tackles. With 7:47 remaining in the third quarter, June did a good job of reading the screen pass from Brees to Stecker and had good pursuit to hold the Saints to a 4-yard gain.
Linebacker Barrett Ruud didn't have a productive game by his standards as he only recorded one tackle and was in coverage on Henderson's 45-yard touchdown reception in the first half. Ruud was responsible for the deep middle on a third-and-14 from the Bucs 45-yard line in the Tampa 2 coverage. As Ruud tried to stay up with the speedy Henderson, he was unable to get his hand up to knock down the ball, even though safety Tanard Jackson was responsible for the deep backside coverage.
Tampa Bay's secondary was burned on two deep pass patterns by the Saints in the first half, but made sure that New Orleans wouldn't get behind the coverage in the second half. The secondary allowed 112 yards passing in the first half, but limited Brees and the Saints to only 50 yards passing in the second half.
Cornerback Phillip Buchanon was picked on in the first quarter giving up two receptions, including a 4-yard touchdown from Brees to wide receiver Terrance Copper. Buchanon was in coverage on a flea-flicker when Brees dropped back and found Colston deep down the field for a 40-yard reception with 3:05 remaining in the first quarter. Buchanon was beaten on a first-and-10 play from the Saints' 22-yard line when Brees found wide receiver Lance Moore for a 14-yard reception.
Cornerback Sammy Davis made his presence known during the victory when he made a good read on a third down play. On a third-and-1 with 11:58 remaining in the second quarter, Brees turned and threw the ball straight down the line of scrimmage to Colston and Davis broke on the play aggressively, wrapping up the 6-foot-4 wide receiver and dropping him for a minus-1 reception, forcing the Saints to punt. Cornerback Brian Kelly also had a good read on a similar play and tackled Bush for a minus-2 yard gain in the third quarter.
Cornerback Ronde Barber finished the game with three tackles, one sack and one quarterback hurry. He was consistent in the secondary on pass coverage and attacked Brees one two separate blitzes called for him. On a third-and-7 with 10:54 remaining in the fourth quarter, Barber came on a blitz and as Brees stepped up to get away from Adams, Barber was there to take down the quarterback for the sack.
Safety Jermaine Phillips had another consistent game in the secondary and was the second-leading tackler on the defense with eight tackles. Phillips, who has become known for his crushing hits, came up from his safety spot on a second-and-9 carry by Bush in the third quarter and jarred the ball loose. Bush, however, was able to fall on the ball, but he was looking for Phillips every time he got his hand on the ball.
Safety Tanard Jackson had a quiet game with only one tackle. Safety Will Allen had an impact play on defense when he came up from deep in the secondary to bring down Bush on a first-and-5 play in the second quarter. It was the only tackle on defense for Allen, but with his limited opportunities with the play of Jackson, he took advantage when he got his shot.
Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant continued his success in field goals as he went 2-for-3 hitting 27 and 31-yard field goals. Bryant came up just short on a 53-yard field goal in the first quarter. Bryant's kickoffs routinely landed at the 10 or 15-yard line, but the Bucs did a good job of covering kicks.
Bucs punter Josh Bidwell wasn't called in to duty too much vs. the Saints as he only had to make two punts in the victory. However, Bidwell played a major role in field position for the defense vs. New Orleans. His first punt came early in the fourth quarter and only went 28 yards, but Bidwell pinned the Saints inside the 10-yard line with a high, booming punt. The second punt for Bidwell went for 42 yards and was downed at the 13-yard line, but the punt actually hit at the 3-yard line and bounced up field.
Wide receiver Maurice Stovall made a tackle on opening kickoff in first quarter, the only special team tackle for him. Phillips made a return-saving tackle in the second quarter when Moore hit a seam and had nothing but green grass in front of him. Phillips' tackle gave Moore a 32-yard return, but kept him from taking the ball to the end zone.
Ryan Nece made a nice tackle on the opening kickoff in the second half, taking down Moore holding him to a 17-yard return. Allen makes two tackles on kickoff coverage.
Kick returner Michael Clayton averaged 22.2 yards per return on four attempts. His longest return was a 24-yarder.
Buchanon along with wide receievers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard struggled returning punts vs. the Saints. The Bucs only gained nine yards on four returns. Hilliard actually allowed a punt to hit the ground inside the 20-yard line and it rolled all the way to the 2-yard line, which led to the safety on quarterback Luke McCown.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's play-calling was aggressive from the first whistle to the last drive of the game. Even though McCown was replacing an injured Jeff Garcia, Gruden was hesitant in throwing the ball down the field or rolling McCown out of the pocket. The fiery head coach even pulled out a couple of trick plays that he has in the back, including a flea-flicker and a throw back pass that involved McCown and running back Earnest Graham. Gruden showed the importance of the game as made a crucial decision to go for the first down on fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter and trailing 23-20. The Bucs got the first down and scored the game-winning touchdown on the same drive. The Bucs were 5-for-13 (38 percent) on third-down conversions, but racked up 466 yards total offense, with McCown passing for more than 300 yards.
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's unit struggled to get a pass rush on Brees early in the game, but stepped up when the Bucs needed them the most. The defense got a crucial turnover late in the fourth quarter that led to the game-winning touchdown. The defense held the Saints to 50 yards passing in the second half. Kiffin used the three-man rush a couple of times during the game, being burned on a 40-yard reception on one, but getting a big sack when using it a second time.
Tampa Bay special teams coach Richard Bisaccia's unit continues its stellar play and helping the defense pinning opposing offense's with bad field position.
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