WR Joey Galloway scored on a reception and a punt return, but it wasn't enough for the Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got what they needed on Saturday night. Unfortunately, they couldn't make it count on Sunday afternoon.
An overtime victory by the Atlanta Falcons over the Carolina Panthers on Saturday kept the Bucs' playoff hopes in the realm of the believable. However, Tampa Bay lost 21-17 to the New Orleans Saints in almost surreal fashion and dropped to the most remote fringes of the NFC playoff hunt. The loss was particularly painful in that every other result the Bucs needed over the weekend came to pass. Tampa Bay is now 5-9, tied with five other teams a game behind the 6-8 Saints, St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers.
"It will not get any harder than this for our players, our coaches and our fans," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "It was a horrible, horrible defeat today."
The Bucs' defense was often smothering, and Tampa Bay had a 10-point lead with a little over six minutes to play. However, two long kick returns and three turnovers doomed the Bucs, who couldn't get the stop they needed in the closing minutes. RB Michael Pittman's fumble, upheld despite a replay challenge, gave New Orleans possession at the Bucs' 41 for the game-winning touchdown drive. QB Aaron Brooks preserved the drive with a 13-yard scramble on fourth-and-12, then completed it with a seven-yard touchdown pass to WR Donte' Stallworth with 32 seconds to play.
"We played great defense throughout the game," said Gruden. "We have a 10-point lead, then Michael Lewis makes the punt return and then lightning strikes with the fumble on the next play. You can't turn the ball over and expect any favors."
The Bucs allowed only 240 yards of offense and sacked Brooks seven times, a season-high. But a touchdown on the game-opening kickoff return and a four-yard drive following a 53-yard punt return kept New Orleans in the game. In addition, the Bucs threw an interception in the end zone and failed on a series of short third downs.
WR Joey Galloway was the key figure for the Bucs as they built a 17-7 lead, scoring on a three-yard reception in the first quarter and a 59-yard punt return in the third period. Galloway now has five touchdowns in his last three games, providing the type of explosive punch the Bucs were expecting when they acquired the veteran speedster in an offseason trade.
Pittman provided much of the rest of the offense, rushing 24 times for 131 yards, the second-highest total of his career. The Bucs ran for 169 yards overall, but a usually productive passing game produced only 114 yards against the Saints' 32nd-ranked defense and a troublesome wind. Pittman, who has averaged 102.3 rushing yards per game in six contests this season at Raymond James Stadium, broke off a 58-yard run early in the fourth quarter, setting up the field goal that gave Tampa Bay its 10-point lead with 11 minutes to play.
Galloway's punt-return score, which broke a 7-7 tie six minutes into the second half, was the first touchdown on a punt return for Tampa Bay since Week Two of 2002, when Karl Williams went 56 yards to pay dirt at Baltimore. Galloway's runback was also the ninth-longest in team history, just edging out the above return by Williams. It was the ninth punt-return score in team history.]
The Bucs have never had a kickoff return for a score, a fact for which they got an uncomfortable reminder to begin the game. Aaron Stecker, the leading kickoff return man in Tampa Bay history and now a Saints reserve, had exactly 100 returns as a Buccaneer but never took one back to the end zone. His first return against the Buccaneers, however, found pay dirt.
Stecker initially muffed the game-opening kick, allowing it to go through his legs and back to the Saints' two-yard line. That apparent good fortune turned sour when Stecker picked it up, eluded a gang of tacklers at the eight and cut to the right sideline to find an open field. Ninety-eight yards later, the Saints led 7-0, 20 seconds into the game.
However, it took the Bucs' offense only three minutes to tie the score, taking the opening possession 60 yards for a touchdown. Helped by three penalties for 34 yards, the Bucs gained a first down at the five and got it in on a third-down pass to Galloway. It was the fourth receiving touchdown in three games for Galloway, who missed most of the season's first half with leg injuries.
Neither team scored again in the first half, which felt like a lost opportunity for the Buccaneers. While Tampa Bay's defense was completely stifling the Saints' offense in the first half – 64 yards allowed, four sacks – the Bucs' offense shot itself in the foot several times. A fumble by FB Mike Alstott in Saints territory killed one promising drive, and two straight third-and-two failures from midfield led to two more punts.
Another special teams problem allowed New Orleans to cut the lead to 17-14 with 3:33 to play. Dangerous return man Michael Lewis escaped a gang of tacklers and broke free across the field, getting down to the Bucs' four for a 53-yard return. The Saints scored two plays later on a fade pass to WR Joe Horn.
The Bucs' pass rush, which came into the game leading the NFL in sacks per pass play, was hot at Brooks's heels all day. At one point, Brooks was dropped for sacks on three straight plays, killing a drive that had moved inside the Bucs' 40. Greg Spires, making his first career start at defensive tackle, split those three sacks with DE Simeon Rice, making the team's D-line shuffling look like a great move. In order to get their most productive linemen on the field, the Bucs moved Spires inside and started second-year man Dewayne White at Spires's usual left end spot. Rice ended the game with 3.5 sacks.
But in the end, turnovers obviously killed the Bucs, as they almost always do. Tampa Bay is 0-12 over the last two seasons in games in which they had a negative turnover ratio. They haven't won a game under those circumstances since the third week of the 2002 season, at Cincinnati.
Notes: T Derrick Deese appeared in his 150th career game on Sunday. He has started 130 of those 150 games. … Second-year DE Dewayne White made his first start of the season and the second of his career on Sunday, opening the game at left end. Usual LE starter Greg Spires slid into the middle to start at under tackle in place of Chidi Ahanotu. It was Spires's first career start at defensive tackle. … DE Simeon Rice's sack on the final play of the first quarter was his 10th of the season. That gave him double digits in that category for the fourth year in a row and the seventh time in nine NFL seasons. … Rookie WR Michael Clayton became the sixth Buccaneer to record a 1,000-yard receiving season, joining Keyshawn Johnson (2), Kevin House (2), Mark Carrier, Bruce Hill and Keenan McCardell. Clayton caught four passes for 53 yards and now has 1,041 yards on the season. … WR Joe Horn's four-yard score in the fourth quarter was the first offensive touchdown allowed by the Bucs at home in 13 quarters, dating back to the third quarter of the Kansas City game on Nov. 7. That drive covered all of four yards. … Dave Moore's five-yard catch in the fourth quarter allowed him to pass a personal milestone. The catch gave him 2,004 receiving yards on his career. It was also a very important play, as it converted a third-and-four, after which RB Michael Pittman ran 58 yards, setting up a field goal.
Injuries: The Bucs reported no injuries during the game.
Inactives: The Buccaneers named eight players inactive for Sunday's game: S Jermaine Phillips, CB Torrie Cox, FB Greg Comella, TE Billy Baber, T Anthony Davis, G Jeb Terry, WR Charles Lee and designated third quarterback Brad Johnson.
Quarter-by-Quarter Reports: During the game, Buccaneers.com provided updates of the action after each quarter. Those reviews of each period are below, providing a closer look at how the game unfolded.
First Quarter Review
Despite allowing a kickoff return touchdown and committing the game's first turnover, the Bucs finished the first quarter in a 7-7 tie with New Orleans. The Bucs had a 79-55 edge in total yardage, but the Saints had the ball in Tampa Bay territory when the quarter came to an end.
The Saints won the toss and scored without ever putting their offense on the field. Remarkably, after mussing the opening kickoff and having to chase it back to the two-yard line, former Buccaneer Aaron Stecker then picked up the ball and ran it 98 yards for a touchdown, 20 seconds into the game.
The Bucs got a decent kickoff return out of Ian Smart, too, as the first-year RB got the ball out to Tampa Bay's 40.
On first down, QB Brian Griese enjoyed a long time in the pocket but eventually had to dump it off over the middle to RB Michael Pittman for a gain of four. On the next play, WR Joey Galloway got around the corner on a receiver screen and picked up 14 yards, to which 15 more were tacked on thanks to a personal foul call.
From the Saints' 27, Griese tried to hit WR Joe Jurevicius, and the Bucs got a first down at the 13 when New Orleans was called for pass interference. On first down, Pittman ran off right tackle for a gain of three, and on second down the Saints committed illegal contact on Galloway in the end zone, giving the Bucs a first down at the five.
FB Mike Alstott got the carry on first down and powered over right guard down to the two. Alstott lost a yard on second down, however, setting up third and goal. Galloway got it into the end zone on the next play, running a fade stop about four yards into the end zone and catching a perfect pass from Griese for the game-tying score.
Starting at their own 28, the Saints took to the ground, running RB Deuce McAllister twice for a total of five yards. On third-and-five, QB Aaron Brooks enjoyed a well-formed pocket and eventually found WR Joe Horn for a game of 12.
On first down from the Saints' 45, McAllister danced past blitzing LB Derrick Brooks and found a seam for four yards. FB Mike Karney was called for holding on second down, however, making it second-and-14. Brooks was pressured into a quick throw on the next snap, tossing an incompletion at the feet of TE Boo Williams. The Saints played it conservatively on third down, and a draw play to McAllister was good for just four yards. Mitch Berger's resulting punt went out of bounds at the Bucs' 21.
RB Ian Smart got the carry on first down but got just one yard around right end. Griese faked a handoff and rolled right on second down, eventually throwing a dart that WR Michael Clayton made a great stab of to get 12 yards. A delayed outlet pass to Pittman on the next play worked for six yards when Pittman eluded the first defender. Pittman's second-down carry got just a yard, bringing up third-and-three. The Saints jumped offside, making it a free play, but Griese made that irrelevant by firing a 10-yard strike to Clayton.
From the Saints' 49, Pittman went around right end and got 10 yards and a first down. Pittman got three yards on his next carry and, after an incompletion, Griese called an audible and threw a quick slant to Jurevicius. The pass picked up five yards and the Bucs decided to go for it on fourth-and-two. Griese converted without having to snap, drawing the Saints offside with a hard count.
On first down from the Saints' 26, Pittman made it around left end but the play came back on a holding call. On first-and-20, Griese looked for Galloway on a post into the end zone but the pass was just barely out of the receiver's reach. The Bucs set up a nice screen to Alstott on second down, but LB James Allen fought off a block and caught the back, forcing a fumble that DE Charles Grant recovered at the 27.
Brooks threw down the line to WR Donte` Stallworth on first down, and Stallworth slipped a tackle and gained 22 yards to the Saints' 49. LB Shelton Quarles tipped away Brooks's next pass, but the Bucs had jumped offside, making it first-and-five from the Bucs' 46. McAllister broke through the line on a first-down carry to gain seven yards and a new set of downs.
Brooks was flushed from the pocket on first down and DE Simeon Rice forced him out of bounds for a one-yard sack. That play brought the quarter to an end.
Second Quarter Review
Despite a dominating performance by their defense (64 yards allowed, four sacks), the Bucs had only a 7-7 tie heading into halftime. The Bucs' offense had gained 130 yards but turned the ball over in Saints territory and failed on two short third downs at midfield.
New Orleans faced a second-and-11 at the Bucs' 40 when the second quarter began, but moved backward nine yards when DE Greg Spires sacked him on the first play of the period. Even better, Spires was able to knock the ball out of QB Aaron Brooks's hands on third down, resulting in a sack and a forced fumble. The Saints recovered but had to punt it away, and Mitch Berger's kick went into the end zone for a touchback.
QB Brian Griese tried to hit RB Michael Pittman on a seam pass on first down but LB Colby Bockwoldt broke it up. Pittman got just two yards on a second-down toss-sweep, but the Bucs moved the chains thanks to a great effort by Griese and WR Joey Galloway. Griese got a quick slant pass off despite a rusher right in his face, and Galloway made an impressive slide-step after catching the pass to get around a tackler and get past the sticks.
From the Bucs' 37, Pittman went off left tackle for three yards and Galloway followed with an end-around that was good for five yards. Griese had time to throw on third down but threw just short of Pittman on a comebacker. Tampa Bay had to punt and the ball was downed at New Orleans' 17.
New Orleans had the ball only three plays this time and went backward before punting. On first down, Spires broke through the line and dropped RB Deuce McAllister for a loss of two. DE Simeon Rice caught Brooks in the backfield on second down for a loss of six, and McAllister's run on third-and-18 got just two back. Unfortunately for the Bucs, a holding call on the ensuing punt pushed them back to their own 33.
Griese found WR Michael Clayton over the middle on first down and hit him for a gain of eight yards. Pittman's run up the middle gained three yards and moved the chains. Pittman made a nice initial move on the next carry to gain seven yards up the middle, but a toss-sweep on second down didn't work, getting only one yard. On third-and-two, Griese had trouble finding an open man and eventually had to throw an incompletion over the head of a well-covered Ken Dilger.
After a touchback on the punt, New Orleans started again at their own 20. McAllister took it up the middle on two straight plays, gaining four yards each time. On third-and-two, a sweep to RB Aaron Stecker worked for nine yards and a first down at the 37.
A first-down screen to FB Mike Karney gained four yards. A McAllister run for three made it third-and-three, but penetration by DT Chartric Darby and backside pursuit by CB Ronde Barber forced a loss of two by McAllister on the decisive down. Berger hit his punt into the end zone for another touchback.
Pittman's first down run got only two yards and a sideline pass to Pittman on second down was incomplete. That play brought on the two-minute warning.
After the break, a pass over the middle to Dilger was complete but good for only six yards, bringing on a punt. After the Saints called a timeout with 1:53 to play, P Josh Bidwell, hit a 34-yard punt that rolled to a stop at the Saints' 39.
The Saints immediately moved into Buccaneer territory thanks to an unnecessary roughness call on DE Dewayne White. On first down from the Bucs' 46, McAllister went right up the middle for seven yards, but a pass downfield to WR Joe Horn was well off-target. On third-and-three with 54 seconds to play, WR Jerome Pathon ran a square-in, but Barber had perfect coverage and was able to knock it away.
The Saints downed the ensuing punt at the Bucs' six, and Tampa Bay kneeled once to end the half.
Third Quarter Review
The Bucs took a 14-7 lead in the third quarter thanks to a special teams play. The first punt return for a touchdown in over two years broke a 7-7 tie. With the defense continuing to dominate and also forcing its first turnover, the Bucs were able to take that seven-point edge into the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay also had the ball at their own 10 to start the final period.
The Bucs got the ball first in the third quarter and started at their own 31, with RB Michael Pittman taking a first down run off left guard for four yards. QB Brian Griese then threw a perfectly-timed crossing route pass to WR Michael Clayton for 23 yards and a first down at the Saints' 42.
Pittman made it around right end on his next carry for another 10 yards. RB Earnest Graham spelled Pittman on the next snap and produced nine more yards right up the middle. Pittman's three-yard follow-up made it first-and-10 at the 19.
The Bucs kept it on the ground, with Pittman gashing over right guard for a gain of six, but his second down run was good for just one more. On third-and-three, Griese faked a handoff and rolled right, but his pass into the end zone to Clayton was easily intercepted by CB Mike McKenzie.
RB Deuce McAllister got the first-down carry from the 20 but got only one yard. A quick slant in WR Donte' Stallworth's direction was tipped away by CB Brian Kelly for an incompletion. QB Aaron Brooks settled for a dumpoff to RB Aaron Stecker on third-and-nine and completion, leading to a punt. And that led to the game's next score.
WR Joey Galloway caught Mitch Berger's punt on the run at the Bucs' 41 and shot through the first line of tacklers to the right sideline. Picking up blocks by DE Dewayne White, LB Keith Burns and, at the two-yard line, S John Howell, Galloway went the distance to give the Bucs a 14-7 lead.
New Orleans' next drive started at its own 34 and went 13 yards on a first down screen to RB Aaron Stecker. McAllister's first-down run got only one yard, but McAllister found a seam for an 18-yard gain on second down, to the Bucs' 34.
CB Ronde Barber blitzed on the next snap and dropped Brooks for a loss of eight yards, and DE Simeon Rice got Brooks on the next play for a loss of three more. On third-and-21 from the Bucs' 45, Brooks dropped a pass over the middle to McAllister for a gain of nine. The Saints appeared to be ready to go for it on fourth-and-12, but the Bucs used a timeout and New Orleans followed the break by punting away, after a false start.
After the punt was downed at the 10, Pittman ran twice, gaining a total of seven yards. On third-and-three, Griese dropped back to pass but eventually had to throw it away, finding no one open.
A holding call on the Saints on the punt helped push the ball back to the New Orleans 36. McAllister's first-down run up the middle got just two yards into the teeth of a run blitz, but he made it around right end for a gain of 13 on second down to the Bucs' 49.
Good protection on the next play gave Brooks time to find WR Joe Horn at the Bucs' 26. After that 23-yard gain, McAllister got the ball again but got just one yard. Again, his second-down carry was better, as he sliced over left guard for a gain of six. On third-and-three, the Saints picked up a blitz and Brooks hit WR Jerome Pathon at the Bucs' three. However, Pathon lost the ball when he hit the ground, resulting in a fumble that was eventually recovered by CB Mario Edwards at the four. The Saints challenged the ruling but the call was upheld.
On the final play of the third quarter, Pittman hit a hole up the middle and tumbled for six yards to the 10.
Fourth Quarter Review
An almost surreal ending to a game that looked to be almost in hand sent the Bucs to their ninth defeat of the season. Holding a 10-point lead with four minutes to play, the home team was struck by a long punt return and a critical fumble, surrendering two late touchdowns to fall 21-17 to the New Orleans Saints. The Bucs' defense allowed only 240 yards and sacked QB Aaron Brooks eight times, but couldn't get the necessary stop in the end.
The Bucs faced a second-and-four at their own 10 to start the fourth quarter and RB Michael Pittman gained nothing on his run on second down. However, QB Brian Griese absorbed a big hit to complete a pass to TE Dave Moore on the left sideline, and Moore fought through a tackler to get five yards and a first down.
On first down, Pittman swept left and found a seam, breaking out into the open. He then ran around one tackler and made it down the left sideline to the Saints' 27, forced out of bounds after a gain of 58 yards.
RB Earnest Graham came in to give Pittman a breather and got two carries, gaining a total of seven yards. The Bucs lined up for the third-and-three but called a timeout before the snap. Griese eventually had to scramble on third down and gained only one yard before being forced out of bounds. The Bucs brought on Jay Taylor to try a 37-yard field goal and he banged it through to push the lead to 17-7.
The Saints started their next drive at their own 41, with RB Deuce McAllister gaining two yards on a first down run into a pile. RB Aaron Stecker made a nice play to turn a shaky-looking screen into a seven-yard gain. On third-and-one, QB Aaron Brooks kept it on a sneak up the middle and got enough to move the chains and put the ball two yards into Buc territory.
Brooks was forced to scramble on first down but slipped after gaining just two yards. On the next play, Brooks made a brilliant pass down the sideline to WR Joe Horn, slipping it just over Brian Kelly's hands for a gain of 25 yards.
From the Bucs' 21, McAllister ran for two yards on first down and three on second down. On third-and-five, Brooks held the ball too long and DE Chidi Ahanotu fought his way to the quarterback for a four-yard sack. The Saints tried a 38-yard field goal, but John Carney pushed it wide right, leaving the Bucs' lead at 10 points.
With six minutes to play, the Bucs went to the ground, with Pittman gaining three yards up the middle on first down. He was tripped up for just one yard on second down as the clock ticked below five minutes. Pittman tried a sweep left on third down but the Saints were ready and LB Courtney Watson caught him for a loss of five.
Disaster struck on the ensuing punt, as return man Michael Lewis fought through coverage to get down to the Bucs' three. FB Jameel Cook just knocked Lewis out to save a touchdown.
The Saints tried to throw on first down, but Brooks' pass to TE Boo Williams failed when Williams fell down in the back of the end zone. The Saints scored on the next play, however, with Brooks throwing a successful fade pass to Horn. The extra point made the score 17-14 in the Bucs' favor with 3:33 to play.
A kickoff out of bounds put the ball at the Bucs' 40, and Pittman got the carry on first down. He gained one yard but fumbled, a call that was upheld despite a Tampa Bay replay challenge.
New Orleans thus took over at the Bucs' 41 with 3:19 to play. Brooks went up top on first down but his bomb to Horn was overthrown. The Bucs guessed right on a McAllister run on second down and caught him in the backfield for a loss of two. On third-and-12, Brooks was forced to scramble and eventually threw incomplete over Horn on the right side. The Saints went for it on fourth-and-12 and Brooks scrambled for just enough yardage to move the chains.
After the two-minute warning, McAllister took it up the middle but LB Derrick Brooks dropped him for no gain. Brooks was able to hit TE Boo Williams over the middle for a gain of 22 to the Bucs' eight.
McAllister got one yard on first down. On second down, Brooks threw a quick slant to WR Donte' Stallworth, who just got the ball into the end zone between CB Ronde Barber and S Dexter Jackson for the go-ahead score.
The Bucs' last-chance drive started at their own 32. A pass over the middle to WR Tim Brown gained 17 yards but, after a spike, left the Bucs with only 11 seconds. They weren't able to get a play off, as DE Darren Howard sacked Griese to finish the game.