RB Michael Pittman had 87 total yards in place of the injured Carnell Williams, but the Bucs couldn't find the end zone in a two-point loss
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may still be appreciative to Vinny Testaverde for his six years of service during some tough times for the franchise. Even so, they were a bit too nice to their former passer on Sunday in New York.
Making his first start of the season for the Jets, 12 days after he was re-signed to salve the team's extensive quarterback wounds, Testaverde completed 13 of 19 passes for 163 yards in a mostly mistake-free performance, leading the Jets to a 14-12 victory over the previously undefeated Bucs. Most importantly, the 41-year-old Testaverde stayed upright all afternoon.
The Bucs' defense was solid, as usual, but it put virtually no pressure on Testaverde, who wasn't sacked until the fourth quarter and was rarely hurried. That was no recipe for success against the 18th-year veteran, who has passed for more than 44,000 yards coming into Sunday's game.
Nor was the interception that QB Brian Griese tossed to veteran CB Ty Law that set New York up for an eight-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. The Jets gained only 212 yards of offense but scored on two short-field drives. Though the Bucs limited RB Curtis Martin to 59 rushing yards, he scored two touchdowns, on carries of two and one yards. The second scoring drive was set up by a 37-yard kickoff return by Justin Miller to start the third quarter.
The Bucs' first sack, by DE Simeon Rice, did kill a potentially devastating scoring drive, and CB Ronde Barber picked off Testaverde a few minutes later to set up the Bucs' final scoring drive, thanks to a perfect blitz by LB Shelton Quarles. However, Testaverde was again comfortable in the pocket on third down deep in his own territory when he fired a 17-yard completion to WR Laveranues Coles shortly before the two-minute warning. Failing to get that much needed stop, the Bucs instead would get the ball back at their own 12 with exactly one minute to play. They would get to only the Jets' 34 before time expired on a 26-yard catch by WR Joey Galloway.
The Bucs couldn't find the right mix of ingredients on offense for much of the day, either, as they tried to cover for the absence of explosive rookie RB Carnell Williams. Williams, the league's third-leading rusher, was inactive due to foot and hamstring injuries, and while substitute starter Michael Pittman and company did rush for 84 yards, the offense never got in synch and gained only 285 yards, including 131 in the second half. In fact, Tampa Bay's initial first down of the second half came with 7:45 left in the fourth quarter, and the Bucs had the ball on offense for only three snaps and three minutes in the third quarter.
That first down, a 22-yard catch by WR Joey Galloway, did spark a lengthy drive that reached the Jets' red zone with five minutes to play. Another completion to Galloway converted a third down and got the ball down to the 18, but the Bucs could get only six more yards and had to settle for a 30-yard field goal, Matt Bryant's fourth of the day in four tries. He also hit from 35, 36 and 43 yards in the first half as the Bucs took a 9-7 lead into intermission.
Bryant's last field goal left the game at 14-12 and forced the Bucs to come up with another quick stop on defense. Testaverde's third-down pass to Coles killed that possibility and basically ended the Bucs' comeback hopes.
Though he was just three for seven for 43 yards in the first half, Testaverde came out slinging in the third quarter and completed seven of his next eight tries, leading one scoring drive and another that ended in rookie K Mike Nugent's second missed field goal. The touchdown march opened the second half and covered 59 yards after Bryant was forced to knock Justin Miller out of bounds at the Jets' 41. The Bucs' defense temporarily held at the goal line with successive stops by Rice, but the Jets went for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the one and Martin rolled over the pile and just crossed the goal line.
Nugent's miss, a low liner from 48 yards out, kept the Bucs in the game at 14-9 and gave the ball to Tampa Bay at its 38, but the offense failed to move the ball on that possession. Actually, the Bucs' best opportunity to score a touchdown came on an interception by LB Ryan Nece deep in New York territory, but the play was erased by an offsides penalty on Anthony McFarland.
On a day when the Bucs needed to play mostly mistake-free ball, they continued to be plagued by penalties, committing 12 infractions for 87 yards. Even the final, last-ditch drive started with a penalty as the Bucs backed up to their own seven on a false start.
The Jets spent the first quarter-and-a-half aiding the Bucs' efforts with a series of mistakes, and Tampa Bay built a 6-0 lead on two Bryant field goals. The Jets fumbled the first punt of the game to set up the first field goal, muffed another punt, dropped a first-down pass, extended two drives and erased an interception with illegal contact penalties and missed a 40-yard field goal.
But it was the Bucs who made the biggest mistake of the first half. Trying to hit WR Ike Hilliard on a short square-in on third-and-two, Griese instead fired a pass directly to veteran Law. Law returned his 38th career interception to the Bucs' eight, where he was predictably tackled by Kenyatta Walker, who has made a habit of saving touchdowns.
In this case, the prevention was only temporary, as RB Curtis Martin ran it in from the two to give New York a 7-6 lead. The Jets got a first down at the two when CB Ronde Barber got entangled with C Kevin Mawae and, as he tried to swat Mawae's arm away, accidentally hit Umpire Butch Hannah below his right eye, knocking Hannah to the ground.
Law's pick was clearly the key to the first half, as neither team was particularly proficient on offense. The Bucs and Jets combined for 213 yards of offense, 16 first downs (13 for the Bucs) and one third-down conversion in 13 tries. Tampa Bay did run the ball relatively well behind the threesome of Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham and Mike Alstott, gaining 68 ground yards in the first half to the Jets' 16. In fact, New York gained only 59 net yards before the intermission, as the Bucs' top-ranked defense remained strong.
Thirty-one of those 59 first-half yards for the Jets came on QB Vinny Testaverde's first completion, a strike over the middle to WR Lavarenues Coles. Rookie K Mike Nugent got a 40-yard field goal attempt off that completion but pushed it right.
The Bucs put themselves into a hole on the opening kickoff, when Torrie Cox muffed a short kick and had to fall on it on the 16. It immediately got worse when DT James Reed broke right through the line on the first play and dropped Pittman for a loss of six yards. The Bucs were unable to overcome that deficit and had to punt from their own 18.
Yet, somehow the Bucs ended up with the ball at the Jets' 44. WR Jericcho Cotchery fielded a 48-yard Josh Bidwell punt at his own 34 and the Bucs' coverage unit closed in quickly. As he spun Cotchery to the ground, rookie TE Alex Smith ripped the ball loose and rookie LB Barrett Ruud fell on it to give the ball back to the Bucs' offense.
Without Williams, the Bucs used virtually everybody on the offensive depth chart in moving 27 yards downfield to set up K Matt Bryant's 35-yard field goal. Alstott ran twice for a first down, WR Edell Shepherd made his first reception of the season for another first down and Graham got into the act with two carries for 12 yards.
Testaverde and the Jets answered right back. After Miller's return out to the Jets 37, Testaverde hit Coles over the middle for a gain of 31, down to the Bucs' 27. However, DT Anthony McFarland dropped Martin in the backfield, LB Derrick Brooks broke up a pass over the middle and the Jets eventually tried a 40-yard field goal Nugent missed, pushing his attempt a few yards to the right.
Two sacks of Griese quickly derailed the Bucs' resulting drive, and the Jets took over again at their own 31 with four minutes left in the first quarter. Testaverde took a crack at a deep pass to WR Justin McCareins but CB Brian Kelly had perfect coverage and the Jets had to punt again, with Mark Jones returning the kick to Tampa Bay's 36.
The Bucs moved into Jets territory and got a piece of good fortune when a David Barrett interception was erased by Law's illegal contact penalty on the opposite side of the field. Griese was leveled as he threw by blitzing S Kerry Rhodes, and his pass sailed high over Galloway's head. The Bucs' first fourth-down attempt of the season also extended the drive when Graham went up the middle for one yard, just barely getting the ball past the sticks at the Jets' 34.
A 16-yard grab by Galloway and another hard Pittman run up the middle for eight got the Bucs another first down at the 20. When S Erik Coleman broke up a pass to Smith at the five, the Bucs had to bring on Bryant again, and he banged a 36-yard field goal through for a 6-0 Tampa Bay lead.
The Bucs' defense got the ball back quickly, but a Ty Law interception of a Griese misfire cost the Bucs dearly. Law returned the pick 43 yards to the Bucs' eight, and an unnecessary roughness penalty on CB Ronde Barber one play later made it first-and-goal from the two. Martin easily ran it in from there, going over left guard for the go-ahead touchdown.
An exchange of punts put the Bucs back at their own 10 with three minutes to play, and the Jets began using timeouts in an attempt to get the ball back. A 13-yard completion to Galloway discouraged that strategy and the Bucs embarked on a two-minute drill that passed midfield with a minute to play. Smith caught three passes on the drive, including a seven-yarder on third-and-six at the Jets' 40. That was the last first down of the half, though, and Bryant came on to try a 43-yard field goal with 10 seconds left. He nailed it, giving the Bucs' a 9-7 lead.
Galloway led the offense with 87 yards on five catches, and Pittman added 46 yards on the ground and 41 more on seven receptions. Griese completed 27 of 42 passes for 226 yards and one interception. He was sacked three times, though the protection improved noticeably in the second half.
Barber and Rice were the Bucs' top defenders. Barber broke up three passes and made five tackles around the line of scrimmage to add to his interception. Rice also had five stops, including two for losses, and the aforementioned sack.
The 4-1 Bucs will play host next Sunday to the Miami Dolphins.
Game Notes: The Bucs missed a chance to match the best start in team history. The 1979 and 1997 teams both started 5-0, and both made the playoffs. The Bucs' 4-1 start is the third-best in franchise annals. … The Jets have now beaten the Bucs six times in a row, dating back to a 62-28 decision in the Jets' favor in 1985. That is the longest current winning streak against the Buccaneers by any opponent. The Tennessee Titans have defeated the Bucs five times in a row. … RB Curtis Martin's fourth-down, one-yard touchdown dive in the third quarter marked the first touchdown the Buccaneers allowed in the second half this season. Tampa Bay's defense had allowed just four field goals and 12 total points through the first four second halves of the season. … Barber's interception was the 24th of his career, moving him into sole possession of fourth place on the Bucs' all-time chart. He remains one sack shy of becoming the first cornerback in NFL history to have both 20 interceptions and 20 sacks.
Inactives: The Bucs named the following eight players inactive prior to Sunday's game: S Jermaine Phillips, RB Carnell Williams, S Donte Nicholson, T Chris Colmer, DT Anthony Bryant, WR Paris Warren, WR J.R. Russell and designated third quarterback Luke McCown.
The Jets have 52 players on their active roster, so were required to name just seven inactives. They were QB Jay Fiedler, QB Chad Pennington, FB B.J. Askew, LB Eric Barton, T/G Steve Morley, WE/LB Trevor Johnson and designated third quarterback Kliff Kingsbury.
Injuries: Neither team reported an injury from the sideline during the game.