QUARTERBACK Quarterback Luke McCown made a couple of bad mistakes in his first start this season, but kept his composure and successfully ran the offense. McCown finished the game 29-for-37 for 313 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He was instrumental in leading the Bucs from behind to score a game-winning touchdown with 14 seconds remaining to lead the Bucs to victory.
McCown was accurate in the first half, completing the first 15 passes that he attempted and was able to move the offense down the field with rather ease. He finished the first half 18-for-21 for 230 yards and one touchdown. He showed his talent of throwing the short, intermediate or deep pass routes. He helped the offense rack up 285 yards total offense in the first half, which is the third-highest total in franchise history.
McCown came out on the first drive of the game and gained some confidence going 5-for-5 for 60 yards. McCown's only bad decision was running out of bounds while scrambling out of the pocket instead of throwing it out of bounds. The loss cost the Bucs a chance to get a first down on third-and-10 and Tampa Bay had to settle for a 28-yard field goal from place kicker Matt Bryant. McCown's favorite target quickly became Galloway as he found him on the third possession of the game with a 60-yard reception that set up the first touchdown for the Bucs. The drive culminated when McCown found tight end Anthony Becht for a 1-yard touchdown.
McCown did a good job of running the two-minute offense late in the first half, but took a sack, along with an offensive pass interference penalty from wide receiver Ike Hilliard, that pushed the Bucs out of field goal range.
McCown remained accurate in the second half, but had two bad mistakes that almost cost Tampa Bay the victory. Late in the third quarter, the Saints sent an all-out blitz at McCown and he threw the hot route to Galloway. However, Galloway ran a double-move out route and Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie was there to intercept the pass and return it 53 yards for the touchdown.
With 3:52 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Bucs inside their 5-yard line, McCown rolled out of the pocket in the end zone and instead of throwing the ball away tried to run out of the end zone. Saints defensive end Will Smith caught McCown from behind and tackled him in the end zone for a safety to give New Orleans a 23-20 lead.
McCown bounced back, however, after the defense recovered a fumble and led the Bucs to the game-winning touchdown. McCown found running back Earnest Graham for a 21-yard reception that set up the Bucs inside the 5-yard line. On third-and-goal, McCown hit tight end Jerramy Stevens with a fade route in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown.
The Bucs converted 5-of-11 (38 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Saints with McCown throwing for two third-down conversions and running for one.
RUNNING BACK Running back Earnest Graham recorded his third 100-yard performance this season finishing with 106 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown. Graham also was tied for the most catches in the game with seven for 37 yards. Graham didn't find much room to run in the first half finishing with 39 yards on eight carries. He did have a 23-yard run on a sweep play to the right which led to a Bryant 31-yard field goal. Graham's big run in the second half came on his 25-yard touchdown run that gave the Bucs a 20-14 lead. He followed fullback B.J. Askew to the outside and raced down the sideline into the end zone. Graham also played a big part in the game-winning drive, pounding the ball over the right side behind guard Davin Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood for a 4-yard gain on fourth-and-1.
Running back Michael Bennett saw some action and had one carry for 12 yards. Bennett's 12-yard run came on second-and-9 from the 30-yard line. Bennett, however, did have a dropped pass in the second half.
Fullback B.J. Askew was consistent in his lead blocks for Graham, but also was big catching the ball out of the backfield. He finished the game with three receptions for 41 yards in the victory. All three of the receptions by Askew went for double-digit yards, with a 16-yard reception in the first quarter along with a 12-yard catch in the second quarter and a 13-yard reception in the third quarter.
The Bucs' running backs rushed for 118 yards on 23 attempts (5.1 avg.) on Sunday.
WIDE RECEIVERS Wide receiver Joey Galloway had a big day, mostly in the first half, as he finished with 159 yards on seven receptions. The 13-year veteran was a big weapon on offense in the first half and terrorized the Saints defense with 148 yards on six receptions. Galloway had a 42-yard reception on a drag route where he did most of the work after the catch. He beat the Saints defense deep which has become routine with a 60-yard reception that set up the first Bucs touchdown. The Saints kept Galloway silent in the second half as he had just one reception for 11 yards.
Wide receiver Ike Hilliard finished the game with four receptions for 29 yards. Hilliard had a 9-yard reception for a first down on the first drive of the game on a second-and-7 play. Hilliard had one bad decision in the game which was an offensive pass interference penalty that pushed the Bucs out of field goal range at the end of the first half.
Wide receiver Michael Clayton didn't have a reception in the game, but did have an impressive run on an end around play. Clayton took the ball on 20-yard reverse play that showed his speed and strength as he barreled into safety Josh Bullocks to finish the run. Galloway also had a personal foul penalty in the fourth quarter, but it was offset by a facemask by the Saints.
Wide receiver Maurice Stovall had one reception for nine yards.
TIGHT ENDS Tight end Alex Smith had one reception for 11 yards, which gave the Bucs a first down and also did a good job of sealing Saints linebackers on sweep plays. On Graham's 25-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Smith sealed linebacker Troy Evans so the running back could get to the outside.
Tight end Jerramy Stevens was used in running situations, but came up with the biggest play of the game. With 14 seconds remaining, Stevens split out wide and caught a 4-yard touchdown pass to win the game for the Bucs.
Tight end Anthony Becht had one reception for one yard and caught his first touchdown of the season. Becht, who missed a key third-down reception last week, had his first catch the season on a 1-yard touchdown that gave the Bucs a 10-7 lead.
OFFENSIVE LINE The Bucs offensive line had an average showing despite the offense racking up more than 400 yards total offense and Graham rushing for more than 100 yards. McCown was sacked three times, even though the third sack was due to him not throwing the ball away. In the last meeting, the Bucs didn't allow the Saints to get their hands on the quarterback once, but Sunday was a different story. Defensive ends Renaldo Wynn and Will Smith had one sack apiece and linebacker Mark Simoneau recorded a sack as well.
Center John Wade was manhandled up the middle by Saints defensive tackle Hollis Thomas and left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury. Wade was consistently pushed into the backfield on running plays. Wade's holding penalty midway through the fourth quarter pushed the Bucs back and the offense failed to convert a first down with a three-and-out.
Left guard Arron Sears was leading the way and pulling for Graham on his way to a third 100-yard performance. On a sweep play in the second quarter, Sears got a key block in clearing the way for a 23-yard gain by Graham.
Left tackle Donald Penn showed some fire early in the game getting into a scuffle with Saints defenders. Penn kept Grant and Smith from getting around the edge and did a good job of forcing them back to the middle of the field.
Right guard Davin Joseph struggled on the inside with defensive tackle Brian Young. Joseph missed a block on a Saints stunt and allowed Wynn to sack McCown driving the Bucs out of field goal range late in the first half. Young beat Joseph on a spin move, which forced McCown out of the pocket. Young didn't get to McCown as he was able to find Askew down field.
Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was solid in his run blocking as the Bucs chose to pound the right side of the line. When the Bucs decided to go for a first down late in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-1, they went behind Trueblood. Trueblood, however, was beat around the edge by Grant and McCown had to scramble out of the pocket for an 8-yard gain.
Tampa Bay won the time of possession vs. New Orleans, 34:46 to 25:14, and gained 466 yards of total offense.
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