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Defense falters when it counts

Bucs allow Eagles to sustain drives, give up 152 yards to RB Duce Staley.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 21, 2002

Bucs allow Eagles to sustain drives, give up 152 yards to RB Duce Staley.

PHILADELPHIA -- On paper, it was, and may still be, tops in the league.

Entering Sunday's game, the Bucs defense had not allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters, it had scored four touchdowns and was playing with the swagger of a championship team.

For most of the game, it looked like that would be the story again. The Bucs mostly contained Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, and linebacker Derrick Brooks scored his fourth touchdown of the season, an 11-yard fumble return that gave the Bucs a 7-3 lead.

"We played pretty good defense," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "It's probably the best we've played these guys in the three years we've played them. We didn't really generate anything on offense. Our one touchdown was a turnover on defense, like we've been doing, business as usual for Derrick."

But for the Bucs defense,there is no place for moral victories.

"This league is a bottom line business," Brooks said. "We lost."

The Bucs did well to contain McNabb, who finished 12-for-25 for 127 yards and one touchdown and had 4 on six carries. But he made plays when it counted.

"One play in the game shouldn't be able to beat a championship ballclub, and that's what we envision we are," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "You've got to take your hat off to them, they made plays when they had to."

Said coach Jon Gruden: "We made some plays. We did some very good things on defense. I think we kept McNabb, for the most part, from being able to run around and make the long play. He made one great play, delivering the ball downfield after the scramble, but for the most part we were able to keep him in the confines of where we wanted to."

The problem wasn't just McNabb. Running back Duce Staley had 152 yards on sustained drives. Staley was particularly menacing late, and although 57 came on one fourth-quarter carry, his running made a difference.

"The thing that kills me is that they had 269 yards of total offense but the last 57 came on one run," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "The last two plays they made a 9-yard run and then a 57-yard run and we didn't give the offense a chance to get back on the field.

"We had a couple mess ups, but that was a kind of game that we needed to win. I can't blame the offense. We got off to such a strong start, really for the first three quarters we were all over them. But you have to finish, and we didn't finish."

Credit must be given to Staley and the Eagles offensive line. As voracious as the Bucs defense has been in past weeks, the Eagles seemed to take control in the second half.

"We didn't tackle well down the stretch and we hate to give up that garbage yardage at the end," Brooks said. "But Duce made the first down and then the next play he hit it for the long run."

The defense also gave up the long pass. Todd Pinkston's 42-yard touchdown reception late in the second quarter was a swing for the Eagles and stopped the Bucs' string of consecutive quarters without a touchdown at 13.

"They called the right play at the right time," safety Dexter Jackson said. "Both guys ran vertical and I had to split both of them, and I'm trying to gauge and he got behind. Eventually, I would have to cover one of them straight up (man-to-man) and leave the other. They just made the play."

While the defense was losing ground late, the Eagles were trampling Tampa Bay's offense.

"We've got a good defense," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "Statistically, their defense was No. 1 in the NFL. I firmly believe that ours is No. 1."

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