After giving up 328 yards in three quarters, Tampa Bay limits New Orleans to 40 during the rest of the game.
By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2002
TAMPA -- A staunch defensive effort gave the Bucs a chance to salvage an overtime win Sunday, but they might not have had to work so hard except for an anemic performance for most of the game.
Tampa Bay seemed perplexed by the Saints offense until the fourth quarter, allowing 328 of their 368 yards.
"Overall, defensively we did not play the way we wanted to play," nose tackle Anthony McFarland said. "I think we played hard, but we didn't play Buc ball."
It started with a mass fundamental breakdown and the hard-running style of running back Deuce McAllister. The second-year back had 31 rushes for 109 yards and forced adjustments that opened fissures in other parts of the Bucs defense. Further adjustments, and lack of a pass rush, exposed weaknesses that quarterback Aaron Brooks exploited for 260 yards and two touchdowns.
"In the beginning we let the run game get going," safety John Lynch said. "We had sloppy tackling, (McAllister) was breaking some tackles and then they got us in a situation where they could do some play action. We had our linebackers up to the line of scrimmage, and (Brooks) had the whole field to work with."
Brooks' favorite target was wide receiver Joe Horn, who worked cornerbacks Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith for eight catches and 108 yards.
"We should have scored 35, 40 points on them," Horn said.
The missing pass rush was a major factor in exposing Kelly and Smith, cornerback Ronde Barber said.
"Whenever you get a lot of time (to throw) it makes it hard," said Barber, who played much of the first half covering slot receivers. "You can't cover those guys all the time. They had a lot of routes to attack our cover-two (defense). We're predicated on getting pressure, and when we didn't get it they had an opportunity."
Brooks exploited that combination with 8 minutes, 36 seconds left in the third quarter when he hit Donte' Stallworth for a 41-yard touchdown and 20-10 lead. Stallworth blew through Kelly's coverage area and made the catch before safety Dexter Jackson could support. Jackson went for a big hit near the 30-yard line and missed completely, allowing the rookie his first touchdown.
Barber said the Bucs called at least four different blitz packages to upset Brooks, but he connected with eight receivers, including McAllister four times for 12 yards.
"You have to be able to cover in the secondary," Barber said, "but it seemed like when we rushed some he found a seam and got off one of those quick passes."
New Orleans converted 10 of 20 third-down chances.
Brooks was sacked twice, by Chartric Darby and Warren Sapp, the first with 13:07 left in regulation.
That increased pressure marked a defensive turnaround in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Saints went 1-for- 6 on third-down conversions, and linebacker Derrick Brooks had an interception late in the third quarter. It was the 13th interception of his career and put him in ninth place on the Bucs all-time list.
The Saints had 21 yards in overtime, all on their final drive. Barber shortened that drive on first down from the Saints 38 when he caught receiver Jerome Pathon after a 3-yard catch.
"I think we showed some good character in coming back," Lynch said. "We gave ourselves an opportunity to win, and the real shame of it is we didn't get it done.
"But I think they executed a little better than us, made a few more plays than us, and that's why they won."