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Publisher Scott Reynolds
"Ike Hilliard almost cost the Buccaneers a chance to win Sunday's game by poorly playing a punt return opportunity late in the fourth quarter. Instead of fielding the punt, Hilliard allowed the ball bounce down to the Bucs' own 2-yard line. It eventually led to quarterback Luke McCown's sack/safety, which put the Saints up over the Bucs, 23-20. That's something Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia has to solve. He must assemble a competent punt return unit. The team has tried wide receivers Joey Galloway and Hilliard and cornerback Phillip Buchanon, and they've had mixed results at best since punt returner Mark Jones went down in Detroit with a season-ending knee injury. This has to be an area of concern for the Buccaneers because they're not getting great returns and they've had some questionable decisions on punt returns as well."
"I liked quarterback Luke McCown's poise throughout the entire game on Sunday. McCown probably earned himself some money with his performance. His worst play was obviously the safety late in the fourth quarter. On the interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Mike McKenzie, it was simply a rushed decision on third-and-10 as the play clock was winding down and he and wide receiver Joey Galloway were obviously not on the same page. I liked what McCown did throughout the game and his mistakes are correctable. Holding onto the football too long was the problem in Seattle. Now he needs to learn to get rid of the ball in a timely manner and throw the ball away when you need to. That's a correctable problem and you couldn't help but be impressed by what McCown did vs. the Saints, completing 29-of-37 (78.3 percent) of his passes for 313 yards and tossing two touchdowns and one interception. He could be the Bucs' quarterback of the future with more performances like this."
"I thought Jon Gruden called an outstanding game today. His playcalling was imaginative, got everybody involved, evidenced by the fact that 10 different players caught passes and made life easier for quarterback Luke McCown. There was a great balance of run and pass in this game. Despite the reverses, throwback passes and tricks that he did call, Gruden's best call of the game was trusting his players on fourth-and-1 to get the first down late in the fourth quarter with the Bucs already in field goal range and position to tie the game. Gruden showed his players that he wanted to go to New Orleans and win the NFC South division title, not just play for overtime. Gruden did a great job of helping McCown succeed in his first start with the Buccaneers en route to their 27-23 win over the Saints."
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
"Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden doesn't like playing New Orleans twice a season, but you can bet wide receiver Joey Galloway does. Galloway excels vs. New Orleans' man coverage, and the Saints are still looking for a way to limit his production. Galloway hauled in seven passes for 159 yards (22.2 avg.) en route to Tampa Bay's big win over the New Orleans on Sunday. That performance gives Galloway 28 catches for 512 yards (18.2 avg.) and eight touchdowns in his last six meetings with the Saints. Galloway nearly got his ninth touchdown vs. the Saints in the first half after hauling in a 60-yard bomb from quarterback Luke McCown, but Galloway was tackled on the 1-yard line. While he wasn't as much of a factor in the second half, the Saints still clearly have trouble containing Tampa Bay's speedy receiver."
"Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham turned in yet another impressive outing in place of injured RB Cadillac Williams. Graham rushed 22 times for 106 yards (4.8 avg.) and scored a touchdown on a 25-yard run in the third quarter vs. the Saints. His biggest run might have come in the fourth quarter when Bucs head coach Jon Gruden decided to go for it on fourth-and-1. Graham made Gruden look smart by picking up 2 yards on a run to the right side of the line. The Bucs eventually scored the game-winning touchdown on that drive. Graham, a former undrafted free agent and third-string running back, has rushed for 737 yards on 176 carries (4.2 avg.) and seven touchdowns this season. That production is making people quickly forget about Williams, Tampa Bay's first-round pick and NFL Rookie of the Year in 2005. With four regular season games left to play, Graham needs just 263 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark, meaning he must average just 66 yards per game to accomplish that impressive feat."
"The Buccaneers put together five scoring drives vs. the Saints, and two others ended in field goal range but resulted in no points for Tampa Bay. That means Tampa Bay put itself in position to score on seven of its 11 offensive drives during Sunday's game. Two of those drives ended in turnovers, with the Saints returning a Luke McCown interception 53 yards for a touchdown and sacking McCown for a safety in the fourth quarter. The other two ended with Josh Bidwell punts, and boy did he deliver on his limited opportunities. Bidwell pinned both of his fourth quarter punts inside New Orleans' 20-yard line, which gave the Saints offense long fields to work with in the second half. Tampa Bay's defense took advantage of Bidwell's punts, which pined the Saints on their own 8- and 13-yard line, respectively, evidenced by the fact that it did not allow New Orleans' offense to score in the second half of Sunday's game."
Contributing Writer Charles Gonzalez
"Coming into Sunday's contest vs. the Saints, the thought was if quarterback Jeff Garcia couldn't play, the Bucs offense would struggle. It didn't matter who filled in for him, either quarterback Bruce Gradkowski or Luke McCown, the Bucs wouldn't be able to move the ball without Garcia under center. McCown got the start and it didn't take long to realize that the Bucs offense was going to have success. McCown completed his first 15 pass attempts of the game and showed the arm strength to stretch the defense. This was not the same quarterback that went 1-for-4 for nine yards in spot duty vs. Seattle in the season opener. McCown showed confidence and poise in the pocket and made good decisions under pressure for the most part. Even though he had a couple of mistakes, McCown showed his resiliency in bouncing back from those mistakes to lead the Bucs to victory. His performance on Sunday is an encouraging sign to head coach Jon Gruden and fans that he may just be the quarterback of the future. It's known that Garcia is the quarterback of the present, but he's only under contract for one more season and is 37 years old. McCown has the mobility, accuracy and patience to run Gruden's complex system. He just needed a stage to prove it and that's exactly what he did on Sunday. A future at quarterback that looked dim just a week ago got a little bit brighter in a victory vs. the Saints."
"Bucs head coach Jon Gruden got quite conservative with Gradkowski last week vs. Washington as he took over the offense with Garcia's injury. Gruden, however, was far from conservative vs. the Saints and he showed just how important this game was for the Bucs pulling out all the stops. He used a flea-flicker, a reverse and even pulled out a throwback pass with McCown and running back Earnest Graham. His trust of McCown was evident in that play alone because he hasn't used that play with Garcia under center. Gruden was aggressive with his play-calling all game long, including making the decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 with no timeouts and trailing 23-20. Gruden set a tone early with the offense and they responded with an impressive rally to get a big road victory. Gruden hasn't lost his "genius" mindset that followed him from Oakland and Philadelphia he just needed some talent to execute it. He has that this year and he's taking full advantage of it."
"Running back Earnest Graham rushed for more than 100 yards, quarterback Luke McCown threw for more than 300 yards, 10 different receivers caught a pass and the Bucs defense held the Saints scoreless in the second half. The Bucs are showing that this team doesn't need a star player at any position to keep racking up the wins. This was a total team effort from the special teams to the backups that have been pressed into duty because of injuries. Tight end Anthony Becht, who has been used in a blocking capacity for most of the season, had a big touchdown reception. No one ever expected the game-winning touchdown pass to go to tight end Jerramy Stevens, but there he was celebrating in the end zone with his teammates. Center Matt Lehr had to take the last five snaps of the game because John Wade left with an injury. This Bucs team might not be the most talented in the NFC, but the depth is leading Tampa Bay to a division title and a playoff berth that very few thought they would capture this season. There is truly no "I" in the word "team" for Tampa Bay, but there is in the word "win" and that's what the Bucs keep doing no matter what the circumstances. "
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