RB Carnell Williams fell four yards shy of his fifth 100-yard game but gave the Bucs' offense everything it needed in a 10-3 win over the Saints
It didn't take 37 carries this time, but rookie RB Cadillac Williams closed the door on the New Orleans Saints in Baton Rouge the same way he did on the Packers in a win at Green Bay in Week Three. Of course, he had a whole lot of help from one of his most veteran teammates, CB Ronde Barber.
Williams gained 33 of his 96 rushing yards on a clock-killing drive in the fourth quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 10-3 win over the Saints. The drive stalled at the Saints' 39 but left the home team with just four minutes to attempt a final comeback.
Of course, given that virtually ever Bucs game seems to go down to the wire, the Saints certainly made the most of those last four minutes. QB Aaron Brooks escaped consistent pressure and drove the home team down to the Bucs 20 with 90 seconds to play. On first-and-15 from the Bucs' 25, Brooks tried to hit Horn on a seam route into the end zone but Barber stayed in front of the receiver and intercepted the pass as he hit the goal line.
That was Barber's third interception of the day, tying the franchise single-game record. Amazingly, it was Barber himself who set that record, also against the Saints, on December 23, 2001. Barber even got his hands on the Bucs' fourth interception, though that one was wrestled away by well-meaning teammate Dexter Jackson in the end zone.
As one would expect in a game of 13 total points, the lowest scoring Buc game of the season, much of it was a defensive struggle. The Saints gained 279 yards to the Bucs' 248, but it was Tampa Bay's defense that produced all four of the game's turnovers. All four of those takeaways ended drives that had reached at least the Bucs' 30-yard line.
Though he fell four yards short of his fifth 100-yard game of the season, which would have tied a franchise single-season record, Williams had one of his finest days running the ball. He consistently broke tackles and gained extra yardage on second efforts. The rookie also caught a key third-down pass on the Bucs' fourth-quarter scoring drive, getting the visitors down to the Saints' nine. RB Michael Pittman gained 40 yards on four carries to help the Bucs pick up 133 yards on the ground and 4.4 yards per carry. This season, the Bucs are 6-1 when they run for more than 100 yards and 5-1 when they average more than four yards per carry.
QB Chris Simms, whose first career start was against New Orleans last year, wasn't asked to do too much, throwing mostly short passes and completing 12 of 21 for 123 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. It was a much better day for Simms than his last road game against the Saints, which ended with a shoulder injury on a first-quarter sack.
This time, Simms keyed on his favorite target, WR Joey Galloway, and Galloway gave him five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs scored first, 10 minutes into the second quarter, when Galloway took a short slant pass and scored a 30-yard touchdown after breaking free from CB Fakhir Brown. Galloway has eight touchdown receptions on the season, one shy of the team record. Simms and Galloway nearly hooked up on another icing touchdown with a pretty long pass in the fourth quarter, but the ball was just incomplete.
Barber was a dynamo for the Buccaneers, adding eight tackles and three passes defensed to his three interceptions. He was literally all over the field, providing good run support out of the slot. He helped Tampa Bay limit the Saints to 65 rushing yards and 2.4 yards per carry.
LB Derrick Brooks added nine tackles and a pass defensed for the defense and LB Shelton Quarles led all players with 10 tackles. CB Brian Kelly broke up two passes and added a sack and DE Greg Spires had the Bucs' other sack.
The Saints threatened to score first in the opening quarter, but just when third downs were becoming a problem for the Buccaneers' defense again, Barber turned in the type of big play the unit has been lacking. On third-and-10 from the Bucs' 30, Aaron Brooks tried to hit TE Zachary Hilton on the left side but Barber reached back with his left hand and made an acrobatic interception. Barber returned the pick to the Saints' 42 but the Bucs eventually had to settle for a 44-yard field goal try. That was new K Todd France's first try with the Buccaneers, but it was blocked and the game remained scoreless.
Still, the Bucs' defense continued to have periodic problems on third down, an issue that has plagued the team for the better part of a month. Brooks and the Saints converted nine of their 16 third-down tries, often with big gains downfield. New Orleans, for instance, converted three third downs on a drive that took the first eight-and-a-half minutes off the second-half clock. However, when the Bucs' defense finally held at the 30, the Saints went for it on fourth-and-six and S Dexter Jackson intercepted for the Bucs in the end zone.
At that point in the game, the Saints had more than double the Bucs' time of possession. Fortunately, the Bucs' ground game then gave the defense some breathing room, as four consecutive runs by Williams and Pittman gained 43 yards and got the ball down to the Saints' 27. The scoring chance evaporated when Simms was sacked by DE Will Smith – the same player who injured Simms' shoulder last year – back at the 35. The Bucs' defense came out strong after its rest, however, and forced a quick three-and-out. A 16-yard punt return by Mark Jones put the ball just shy of midfield with a minute left to play in the third quarter.
The Bucs used that fine field position to drive methodically for a field goal. Simms converted two third downs of his own with passes to Williams and Ike Hilliard, but the Bucs stalled after Williams' nine-yard catch over the middle on third-and-seven. France got another try and nailed this one from 28 yards out, thanks in part to P Josh Bidwell's excellent placement of a high snap. France's kick gave the Bucs a more comfortable seven-point lead with just under 10 minutes to play. The defense got the ball back again and Williams helped kill six minutes off the clock.
The Bucs' offense got off to a slow start in the first half, gaining just 22 yards in the first quarter, but the defense kept the visitors in a scoreless tie. Despite a relative lack of pressure on Brooks in the early going, the Bucs forced the quarterback into a lot of third-and-long plays thanks to a stellar run defense that allowed only 11 yards in the first quarter.
Barber got the ball back for the Bucs again in the second quarter, shadowing Hilton down the right seam and picking off a pass at the Bucs' 34. That gave Barber four career multi-interception games, including two against the Saints, and it also led to a score this time. Simms drove the Bucs 64 yards on five plays, with Galloway and Williams accounting for all the yards. Williams ran three times for 15 yards and Galloway finished the drive with his 14th touchdown in his last 17 games..
Unfortunately, the Saints answered Galloway's score immediately with a sustained drive that took most of the rest of the first half. Former Buccaneer RB Aaron Stecker got the Saints started with a kickoff return out to the 35, then gained 41 yards on a screen pass. The drive reached the Bucs' nine, but a blindside hit by DE Ellis Wyms forced Brooks' third-down pass into the ground. The Saints settled for a 26-yard field goal by John Carney.
The Bucs' victory was their fourth in six tries on the road this season. It opened a three-game road swing that will continue at Carolina and New England over the next two weekends. It also gave the Bucs sole possession of second place in the NFC South as the first-place Panthers beat Atlanta on Sunday to drop the Falcons to 7-5. The Bucs are 8-4, a game behind the 9-3 Panthers.
Game Notes: The Bucs improved to 2-1 in NFC South play with Sundays' win over the Saints. Though Tampa Bay is still just 3-4 against New Orleans since the NFC South was formed in 2002, it has won three straight on the road in the series. … Sunday's game was the Bucs' first regular-season contest in a college stadium since the season finale of 2002. Tampa Bay defeated the Chicago Bears at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois on December 29, 2002 to clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs en route to the Super Bowl. The Bears played their home games at the University of Illinois that season while Soldier Field was renovated. … CB Brian Kelly's sack of QB Aaron Brooks in the first quarter was Kelly's first sack since 2002. He now has 3.5 in his career. … CB Ronde Barber's interception in the first quarter was the 25th of his career, and his pick in the second quarter was his 26th. His last one was his 27th. He remains in fourth place on the Bucs' all-time list in that category but pulled within one of Mike Washington (28) in third. Barber has six career interceptions against the Saints, though he's only had a pick in two different games. Barber first set the team record with three interceptions against New Orleans on 12/23/01. … P Josh Bidwell's 51-yard punt in the second quarter marked the 13th straight game in which he has had at least one 50-yard kick. Bidwell finished the game with an average of 39.8 yards on five punts … RB Aaron Stecker's 41-yard reception in the second quarter was the longest of his career. He spent his first four seasons with the Buccaneers and also had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay last season. … The Bucs led 7-3 at the end of the third quarter and held on for a 10-3 win. Tampa Bay is now 7-0 this season when leading at the end of the third quarter.
Inactives: The Bucs named the following eight players inactive prior to Sunday's game: K Matt Bryant, RB Derek Watson, S Will Allen, LB Marquis Cooper, T Chris Colmer, DT Anthony Bryant, C Scott Jackson and designated third quarterback Tim Rattay.
The Saints named the following eight players inactive: WR Lance Moore, S Steve Gleason, T Ben Archibald, DT Rodney Leisle, TE Shad Meier, WR Az-Zahir Hakim, DT Cedric Woodard and designated third quarterback Adrian McPherson.
Injuries: CB Juran Bolden sustained a lower back strain late in the first half but did return later in the second half.