Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Staying Alive

A bizarre but beautiful two minutes before halftime produced all the points the Bucs would need in a 14-7 win over New Orleans that kept Tampa Bay’s slim playoff hopes alive

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DT Warren Sapp's second touchdown catch of the year, a leaping, acrobatic grab, gave the Bucs a lead they wouldn't relinquish

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stopped Deuce McAllister's awesome streak of 100-yard games. More importantly, they put a halt to their own losing ways.

Scoring twice in the last 90 seconds of the first half, the Bucs took a 14-7 lead into halftime and protected it through a wild second half. Tampa Bay's win puts both teams' record at 6-7 and keeps the Bucs' playoff hopes alive for at least one more week.

The Buccaneers, in need of a helpful bounce of the ball for some time now, got one near the end of the first half when WR Joe Horn – en route to a nine-catch, 118-yard effort – dropped a perfectly thrown touchdown pass. Had he caught it, the Saints likely would have taken a 14-0 lead into halftime; instead, an amazing string of events over the next two minutes gave Tampa Bay its 14-7 advantage.

On the very next play, Brooks tried to throw again but the ball slipped out of his hand as his arm came forward. S Jermaine Phillips scooped up the fumble and returned it the Saints' 37. Two plays later, QB Brad Johnson hit TE Ken Dilger on a shallow out and Dilger stepped through one tackle to score on a 14-yard reception.

The Saints appeared to grab the momentum back on Michael Lewis kickoff return out to the 44, but the Bucs stopped New Orleans shy of midfield, forcing a punt. S David Gibson then blocked Mitch Berger's punt and CB Ronde Barber returned the ball to New Orleans' one-yard line.

The Bucs' offense came out in a power package with 17 seconds left in the half, but passed on first down to take the lead. Johnson rolled right off a play fake and threw to DT Warren Sapp, who was on as an extra blocker. Sapp made an acrobatic, leaping catch, bobbling then securing the ball as he hit the turf.

The Saints had to play the game without two players who have hurt Tampa Bay in the past – WR Donte` Stallworth and DT Willie Whitehead – but they still had the two biggest Buc-killers on the field: RB Deuce McAllister and, especially, QB Aaron Brooks. However, this time the Bucs were able to stop both.

New Orleans stubbornly ran McAllister into an overloaded front throughout the first half, but he gained just nine yards on his first six carries, just 39 by halftime and a total of 69 on 22 carries by the end of the game. Nearly a third of those yards came on one 22-yard run in the third quarter.

Coming into the game, McAllister had recorded nine straight 100-yard rushing games, something accomplished just twice before in NFL history.

Brooks, on the other hand, was red hot as the game began, finding every hole in the Bucs' zone coverage and completing all seven of his first-quarter passes for 91 yards. The seventh was a 31-yard touchdown pass to red-hot TE Boo Williams, who was so open on the right sideline that there wasn't a single Buc defender within 15 yards.

However, the pressure applied by Tampa Bay's recently-beleaguered defensive line eventually became too much for Brooks. The Bucs sacked him seven times and forced four fumbles, three of which Tampa Bay recovered. The last of those three turnovers came with New Orleans on the Bucs' six-yard line midway through the final period. DE Greg Spires leaped several yards to land on Brooks' back and force the fumble, and DT Chartric Darby recovered.

If Brooks and McAllister are the Bucs' main nemeses, then DE Simeon Rice is Tampa Bay's top Saint-killer. Rice, who came into the weekend tied for the NFL lead with 12 sacks, moved into third place on the Bucs' all-time sack list in the second quarter. Rice's eight-yard sack of QB Aaron Brooks, which pushed New Orleans out of field goal range, gave him 39.5 as a Buccaneer. That pushed him past former DT David Logan. The only Bucs with more sacks are Hall of Fame DE Lee Roy Selmon (78.5) and teammate Warren Sapp (77).

Rice wasn't even close to done.

Rice, who has sacked Brooks nine times in his career, the most of any opposing quarterback, dropped the Saint QB again near the end of the second quarter, leading to a fumble that New Orleans recovered. On the Saints' first possession of the second half, Rice got to Brooks again on third down, killing another drive. Rice now has 15 sacks on the season, and seven in his last three games against the Saints. His total is already the third-highest in Buc history, following Warren Sapp's team record of 16.5 in 2000 and Rice's own 15.5 last year.

Tampa Bay then ran six minutes off the clock with an extended drive kept alive by three third-down conversions. The first two came courtesy of Keenan McCardell, who made a pair of dazzling plays for receptions of 11 and 35 yards. Though he did not have a reception at halftime, McCardell led all Bucs with six catches for 85 yards at game's end.

Johnson was sacked just once, late in the second half, and he found time to complete 20 of 34 passes for 213 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. That single pick, off a deflected pass in the fourth quarter, set up the drive that got down to Tampa Bay's six.

The Bucs' offense had a typical day, with fits of brilliance too often countered by costly penalties. Tampa Bay was penalized nine times for 85 yards, most of them on offense and many on big plays. Among the second-half plays erased by flags were a 28-yard catch by WR Edell Shepherd, a 14-yard end-around by Charles Lee, a 13-yard run by Thomas Jones and a 20-yard punt return by Reggie Barlow.

It got so bad that the Bucs even had a flag thrown on a player who wasn't on the field for a single snap. With the Bucs experiencing problems with their coach-to-quarterback helmet radio, backup QB Shaun King came a few yards onto the field to try to communicate with Brad Johnson. That's a no-no; 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Still, the Bucs overcame a slow start to rack up 314 yards, split nicely between 107 on the ground and 207 through the air. Meanwhile, the Saints, who had 216 yards at halftime, finished with just 292.

The Buccaneers made a series of roster moves during the week leading up to Sunday's game, and Head Coach Jon Gruden seemed intent on using every player on the 53-man squad. On offense, RB Thomas Jones started in place of Michael Pittman and got the handoff on the Bucs' first three plays, picking up a total of 17 yards. Jones finished with 89 yards on 20 carries, leading all players, plus two receptions for 14 yards.

The first time the Bucs went to a multiple-receiver set, Shepherd and little-used veteran Karl Williams came onto the field. WR Charles Lee, just recently elevated to the starting lineup, was the Bucs' second leading pass-catcher, with five grabs for 52 yards.

On defense, rookie CB Ronyell Whitaker took over the nickel back job and was immediately matched up with star receiver Joe Horn. Rookie DE Dewayne White got some long-awaited action in the second quarter, as well, subbing in at left end. LB Nate Webster took some series at middle linebacker and S David Gibson played extensively at strong safety after an injury to John Lynch, before Gibson himself got hurt and Lynch returned in the second half.

Long-time hero Derrick Brooks, however, was one of the game's biggest stars. Brooks led all players with 11 tackles, had one of the team's seven sacks and forced a fumble on a different scramble by Brooks, thwarting another drive that had reached Buccaneer territory. Brooks also made the game's final tackle, stopping McAllister two yards short of the sticks on a fourth-and-six reception.

The Buccaneers snapped a three-game road losing streak and moved to 4-3 overall this season away from home. Tampa Bay is also 2-0 in dome games this year.

Notes: The Bucs extended their rather lengthy streak of consecutive games with at least one takeaway to 54 with Jermaine Phillips' fumble recovery in the second quarter. That streak is the longest current one and the second longest in the NFL since 1983; the longest is Philadelphia's 71 from 1985-90. … QB Brad Johnson tied the Buccaneers' all-time single-season record for touchdown passes, which he set last year at 22. Johnson, who has thrown at least one TD pass 12 of the Bucs' 13 games this season, has three games remaining to break his own mark. Johnson also moved into fourth place on Tampa Bay's career passing-yardage list, moving past Steve DeBerg (9,439) and finishing the day with 9587. Johnson is the first passer in Buccaneer history to record three consecutive 3,000-yard seasons. … S David Gibson's block of Mitch Berger's punt just before halftime was the first blocked punt by Tampa Bay since December 29, 2001. TE Todd Yoder got that one against Baltimore's Kyle Richardson.

Injury Updates: S John Lynch suffered a right shoulder stinger in the first quarter and missed most of the first half. He returned, however, after his replacement, S David Gibson was knocked out of the game just before halftime with a left ankle sprain. DT Warren Sapp sustained a sprained right foot in the third quarter and did not return.

Quarter Reports: During Sunday's game, Buccaneers.com provided game updates at the end of each quarter. Those updates follow to offer a closer look at the game's key plays.

First Quarter Update

Saints QB Aaron Brooks had the hot hand in the first quarter, completing all seven of his passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, as the Saints opened up a 7-0 lead. New Orleans out-gained the Bucs, 117 yards to 55, in the first quarter, though Tampa Bay's running game showed signs of life behind RB Thomas Jones.

New Orleans won the coin toss and elected to receive. Martin Gramatica sent the opening kickoff down to the two and the Bucs' coverage team swarmed over return man Michael Lewis at the 20.

Not surprisingly, the Saints started on the ground, but RB Deuce McAllister was stopped by DE Greg Spires after a gain of just one up the middle. A sweep left by McAllister was stopped behind the line of scrimmage, but the Bucs were flagged for offsides, setting up second-and-four. The Saints then picked up the game's initial first down with a 16-yard strike over the middle to WR Joe Horn.

McAllister got the first down carry again and broke out of a pack to surge forward for four yards. Brooks then tried a receiver screen to Horn on the right side but LB Ryan Nece came over to make the tackle after a gain of just three. An underneath pass to TE Boo Williams on third-and-three came up a yard short thanks to a quick tackle by LB Shelton Quarles and CB Ronde Barber. New Orleans' ensuing punt went out of bounds at the Bucs' six.

The Bucs also started with the run and got four yards on a run off left guard by Jones, who started in place of Michael Pittman. Jones tried to go right on second down but gained just one yard. Even on third-and-five, the Bucs gave it to Jones and it worked as the back danced through a seam around right tackle and got 12 yards to the 23.

Pittman then replace Jones in the lineup and got four yards directly up the middle. After a false start penalty made it second-and-11, a pass to Pittman on the right side gained six yards back to make it third-and-five again. The Bucs converted again with a bit of trickery, pitching it to WR Charles Lee on an end around. Lee followed a good block by G Kerry Jenkins to get around the corner for eight yards.

QB Brad Johnson's first-down pass to Pittman was knocked away by LB Derrick Rodgers and Jones got just two yards on second-and-10. A well-timed hit by CB Ashley Ambrose broke up a short pass to WR Keenan McCardell on third down and the Bucs had to punt. Tom Tupa boomed his kick 55 yards and an illegal block helped force the Saints back to their own 19.

McAllister bashed up the middle for three yards on first down, but a false start cost the Saints five yards. After a screen pass to McAllister picked up eight yards, the Saints lined up in the shotgun but snapped the ball directly to McAllister and he got just enough for the first down.

Brooks then found Horn open over the middle again, gaining 17 yards out to the Saints' 41. The Bucs caught McAllister in the backfield on the next play for a loss of three, but another Brooks-Horn connection gained 14 more just into Tampa Bay territory. S John Lynch caught McAllister in the backfield for an apparent loss, but McAllister got away, losing his helmet in the process, and managed to get back to the line of scrimmage before going out of bounds. Lamar Smith came on to replace McAllister on the next snap and immediately broke free up the middle for a pickup of 17 down to Tampa Bay's 31.

New Orleans scored on the next play. TE Boo Williams found a wide-open spot down the right sideline, caught a long pass and just beat S Jermaine Phillips to the end zone, giving the Saints a 7-0 lead.

The Bucs started their next drive at their own 24 and got a quick nine yards on a pass to Lee. Jones then danced around a pair of tacklers near the line of scrimmage and dashed up the middle for a gain of 12 to the Bucs' 45. However, the Bucs were penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct when QB Shaun King left the bench to try to communicate with Johnson. On first-and-25, the Bucs tried a screen pass to Jones but LB Darrin Smith came up quickly to make the tackle for a loss of three. That play ended the quarter.

Second Quarter Update

The Buccaneers took a 14-7 lead into halftime thanks to an amazing turn of events in the final two minutes of the second quarter. An Aaron Brooks fumble and a blocked punt led to two quick touchdowns for the visiting team. Tampa Bay had the seven-point lead despite being out-gained in the half, 216 yards to 112.

The Bucs opened the second quarter in a second-and-28 hole and were unable to climb out of it. A pass over the middle to WR Charles Lee was good for 12 yards but RB Michael Pittman dropped QB Brad Johnson's swing pass on third down and the Bucs had to punt.

The Saints started again at their own 18 and got just one yard on Deuce McAllister's run up the middle. QB Aaron Brooks found TE Walter Rasby for 17 yards over the middle, then WR Joe Horn on the right sideline for another 15 on the next play. That put the Saints at the Bucs' 49, and McAllister then busted up the middle for a gain of nine.

An encroachment penalty on the Bucs gave New Orleans a first down at the 35, but the Bucs turned up the heat on Brooks to thwart the drive. Brooks tried to scramble out of trouble on first down but slid down at the line of scrimmage, giving LB Derrick Brooks a no-yard sack. DE Simeon Rice then dropped A. Brooks for a loss of eight on the next play, and the quarterback's third-down pass was tipped at the line and incomplete. New Orleans had to punt and a touchback put the Bucs at their own 20.

After an incompletion, Johnson found Lee over the middle again for 14 more yards. RB Thomas Jones got four yards off left tackle, but Johnson's second-down pass was knocked away by LB Sedrick Hodge. Lee caught what appeared to be a first-down pass on third-and-six, but Lee was flagged for offensive pass interference. On third-and-16, a Jones run up the middle gained just four and the Bucs had to punt.

The Saints started again at their own 20, losing one yard on a McAllister run and gaining it back on the same play on second down. S David Gibson, in the game for an injured John Lynch, made the stop on both plays. However, a Buccaneer blitz was picked up on third-and-10 and Brooks had time to fire an 18-yard strike to TE Boo Williams.

McAllister was stopped in the backfield again on first down, and a facemask penalty on the Saints pushed the ball back to the 24, making it first-and-24. WR Joe Horn quickly got 15 off those yards back with a slant from the right side. The Saints tried a screen pass on second down, but DT Warren Sapp tipped it, forcing an incompletion. However, Brooks and Horn hooked up on another slant for 12 more yards and a first down at the Bucs' 49.

McAllister got three yards on first down and two on second down. After a Saints timeout, the home team converted on third down for the fourth time, Brooks scrambled forward and threw a strike to Rasby for 14 yards along the right sideline.

From the Bucs' 30, McAllister tried to get around the left edge but was tripped up by D. Brooks after a gain of just two. The Saints could have scored on the next play, but WR Joe Horn dropped a pass in the end zone, making it third-and-eight. After a New Orleans timeout, the Bucs got their first piece of good fortune. Brooks tried to pass, but the ball slipped out of his hand behind him. DT Warren Sapp batted the fumbled ball back and S Jermaine Phillips picked it up and ran to the Saints' 37. The Bucs scored two plays later.

On the first snap, Jones went up the middle for a gain of nine, and a facemask penalty tacked on 14. From the 14, Johnson threw to TE Ken Dilger, who broke a tackle and made it to the corner for the game-tying touchdown.

On the ensuing kickoff, however, dangerous returner Michael Lewis broke out to the Saints' 44 before being caught by Corey Ivy. The Saints tried to go deep on first down, but CB Ronyell Whitaker stayed with Horn and helped break up the pass down the right sideline. After a McAllister run got just one yard, Rice knocked the ball out of Brooks' hand for a sack and a fumble. New Orleans recovered to keep possession, but Gibson blocked Mitch Berger's punt on the next down. CB Ronde Barber picked up the ball near the left sideline and got down to the Saints' one before being tackled.

Tampa Bay scored on the next play to take the lead, 14-7. With 17 seconds left in the half, the Bucs lined up in a power package with both Sapp and Anthony McFarland on as extra blockers. The Bucs faked a handoff, however, and threw a pass to wide-open DT Warren Sapp. Sapp made a fabulous, leaping catch for his second touchdown of the season.

The Saints finished the half with an 11-yard run by McAllister.

Third Quarter Update

The third quarter was scoreless, which allowed Tampa Bay to maintain its 14-7 lead. Each team missed a field goal in the 40-50 yard range, and the Saints lost one scoring opportunity on a fumble while the Bucs gave one away on a failed fourth-and-one run. At the end of the third quarter, the Bucs had sliced New Orleans' yardage edge to 256-206.

The Bucs got the ball first to start the second half, opening at their own 26. RB Thomas Jones went up the middle for three yards on first down, and QB Brad Johnson found WR Charles Lee open over the middle on second down. Lee made several nice cuts to pick up extra yardage out to the 43. After an incompletion Johnson looked over the middle again and found WR Keenan McCardell for a gain of 16.

From the Saints' 41, RB Michael Pittman bashed up the middle for a gain of seven. Tampa then used a timeout. A Jones run made it third-and-one, but Pittman couldn't convert on third down and was caught by S Jay Bellamy for a loss of two on fourth down.

That gave the ball back to New Orleans at the Saints' 34, but the Saints went three-and-out. A deep pass over the middle to WR Jerome Pathon was overthrown, and RB Deuce McAllister got just three yards on a second down run off left guard. QB Aaron Brooks was then sacked by DE Simeon Rice for no yards, forcing a punt. WR Reggie Barlow ran out of bounds at the Bucs' nine as he fielded Mitch Berger's kick.

The Bucs also went three-and-out. Johnson hit McCardell for six yards on first down, but Pittman's second-down carry got just one yard. Johnson threw under pressure on third-and-four and it hit the ground at WR Karl Williams' feet. WR Michael Lewis returned the ensuing 51-yard punt 27 yards to the Bucs' 40 before stepping out of bounds.

A rollout pass to TE Boo Williams worked for a gain of eight yards on first down. McAllister ran into the teeth of a run blitz on second-and-two and was dropped by S Jermaine Phillips after a gain of one. On third-and-one, Rice stepped over a low block by McAllister and drove Brooks back, forcing an errant pass over Pathon's head. That forced a 49-yard field goal try by John Carney, and he pushed it wide right.

The Bucs thus took over at their own 39 and got a quick 10 yards on a second-down rollout pass to Pittman. Johnson then hit McCardell for a six-yard gain. On second-and-four, Johnson lofted a deep pass to TE Rickey Dudley but S Jay Bellamy was their to break it up. Bellamy, Dudley and CB Fred Thomas all jumped together and Dudley nearly came down with the ball off a deflection.

Johnson, however, converted the third-and-four with a perfect sideline pass to McCardell for 11 yards. After a three-yard run by Pittman, the Bucs appeared to get inside the five with a pass to WR Edell Shepherd, but Lee was flagged for picking Shepherd's defender. On second-and-17 from the Saints' 41, Johnson hit Pittman over the middle and the back cut past one tackler to pick up 13 yards. On third-and-four, Johnson settled for a short pass to Lee and Bellamy stopped him a yard short. Martin Gramatica came on to try a 44-yard field goal and, like Carney, pushed it wide right.

From their own 34, the Saints immediately ran into Buccaneer territory on McAllister's 22-yard breakaway. Brooks then missed McAllister on a screen pass, and the back's second-down carry got just two yards. Brooks scrambled out of pressure on third-and-eight but was hit hard by LB Derrick Brooks, fumbling the ball forward. DT Anthony McFarland recovered for the Bucs at the Tampa Bay 20.

A 14-yard end-around by Lee on first down was erased by a holding penalty, and the third quarter then came to an end.

Fourth Quarter Update

Neither team scored in the fourth quarter, which allowed Tampa Bay to escape with a 14-7 victory. The Saints got down to Tampa Bay's six-yard line midway through the period, but DE Greg Spires killed that drive with a forced fumble. Several outstanding plays by WR Keenan McCardell allowed the Bucs to sustain a drive and run all but two minutes off the clock, and a seventh sack of QB Aaron Brooks, by DT Anthony McFarland, thwarted the Saints' last try.

With the win, the Bucs moved to 6-7, as did the Saints. Both teams are believed to still be mathematically alive in the NFC playoff hunt.

A penalty at the end of the third quarter put Tampa Bay in a first-and-20 hole at their own 20. A sideline pass to Rickey Dudley gained six yards, but a sack of QB Brad Johnson by DE Kenny Smith gave those six yards back. Johnson was nearly sacked again on third-and-20, but he managed to get off an incomplete pass in RB Michael Pittman's direction. Tom Tupa's fourth-down punt took a fortunate hop down the middle of the field and was downed at New Orleans' 30.

QB Aaron Brooks dropped back to pass on first down but his throw was a little too high for TE Boo Williams to handle. RB Deuce McAllister was stopped for no gain on second down, and a screen pass to FB Terrelle Smith came up well short of the first down thanks to CB Ronde Barber's quick reaction.

A penalty on the ensuing punt erased a good return by Reggie Barlow and pushed the Bucs back to their own 12. Johnson tried to hit WR Charles Lee down the left sideline but CB Fred Thomas reacted quickly to an underthrown ball and was able to knock it away at the last second. A three-yard run by Pittman made it third-and-seven, but the Bucs converted when Johnson audibled into a shovel pass to RB Thomas Jones and Jones dashed up the middle for a gain of 17.

From their own 32, the Bucs got one yard on a run right by Jones, but turned it over on the next snap. Johnson tried to squeeze a pass in to TE Rickey Dudley, but it as tipped by CB Ashley Ambrose and intercepted by LB Orlando Ruff.

The Saints took over at Tampa Bay's 34 and got into the red zone with one play, a 16-yard strike over the middle to WR Joe Horn. After McAllister got two yards off left guard, Johnson nearly hit Williams in the end zone, but it was just overthrown. The Bucs blitzed on third down, but New Orleans picked it up and Brooks had time to find Horn at the Bucs' six.

A fade to Horn didn't work, and the Saints coughed it up again on the next play. DE Greg Spires sacked Brooks from behind, leaping several yards onto his back. Brooks fumbled and DT Chartric Darby recovered for Tampa Bay at the bottom of a vicious pile.

With eight minutes left in the game, the Bucs put the ball on the ground, as Jones ran off left tackle for one yard. A quick slant over the middle to Lee was knocked away by Fakhir Brown, but a fantastic effort by WR Keenan McCardell moved the sticks. McCardell caught a pass in the left flat and faked out two defenders to buy the room to dive for a first down at the 21.

After two unsuccessful plays – a one-yard run by Jones and an incompletion, McCardell made another dazzling play, leaping over Brown to haul in a 35-yard pass down the right sideline. From the Saints' 43, Jones found a seam and ran for 13 yards, but a personal foul on FB Darian Barnes after the play pushed the Bucs back to the Saints' 45, though it was still first-and-10.

Jones got six and three yards on his next two carries. On third-and-one, Johnson faked a handoff and rolled left before throwing a 12-yard strike to TE Ken Dilger, who held on despite a very hard, blindside hit from S Tebucky Jones. Jones then ran off left guard for four yards and the Saints called a timeout with 2:28 left on the clock.

Jones ran two more times, for one and three yards, with the Saints calling a timeout after each. Martin Gramatica then missed a 35-yard field goal, as it was blocked by Tebucky Jones, giving the ball back to New Orleans at their 25 with just 2:14 to play.

A seven-yard pass over the middle to McAllister brought on the two-minute warning. After the break, Brooks was chased out of the pocket and sacked by DT Anthony McFarland for a loss of 11. Brooks found Pathon for eight yards on third-and-14, but he had to settle for a dumpoff to McAllister on fourth-and-six and LB Derrick Brooks stopped him two yards short of the sticks.

The Bucs thus took over on downs and were able to run out the clock with two kneel-downs.

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