Defensive end Simeon Rice sets an NFL record in the first quarter, but Bucs defense gives up some big plays late.
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 2, 2002
NEW ORLEANS -- For the first few minutes Sunday night, the well-documented image of the Bucs defense was intact. It was rushing the passer, stuffing the run, coming off on third down.
A lot of that was because of the solid play in the secondary and the tremendous effort by defensive end Simeon Rice.
Then the Saints answered by reeling off 14 straight points in the third quarter to put the defense on its heels in New Orleans' 23-20 win.
Two games in one.
But it started with Rice.
November was a heck of a month for Rice. He was named the NFC defensive player of the month after six sacks in the Bucs' three wins.
And in the first few plays Sunday night, Rice looked determined to make December just as memorable.
The seventh-year player, in his second season with the Bucs, had three sacks, three tackles and forced a fumble in the first quarter. He was one of the bright spots for a Bucs defense that entered the game giving up an NFL-low 11.5 points a game.
The effort propelled Rice, who entered the weekend leading the league with 11.5 sacks, into NFL and Bucs history.
With his second sack of the night, for a 14-yard loss at the Bucs 16, Rice became the first player in NFL history to record five straight multiple-sack games, a run that began Oct. 27 at Carolina.
"I do not want that (record) to overshadow what happened. We lost," Rice said. "I would rather get the W, because that is what I am about."
Rice has 22.5 sacks in his past 18 regular-season games.
Rice's three sacks in the first half also moved him into second place on Tampa Bay's season sack list. At 14.5, Rice moved past former defensive end Marcus Jones (13). He needs two to tie defensive tackle Warren Sapp's 2000 single-season record.
Now, the not-so-good news.
The Bucs defense, which had been stingy during the team's four-game winning streak, looked distinctly similar to the one that got blitzed in the first half of the season opener against, you guessed it, the Saints.
"Momentum is a good thing and a bad thing. And when you get it like they did (in the third quarter) it made a difference," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "They have an outstanding quarterback who is able to move around, and he made the plays. We got ourselves into some situations, with turnovers and field position, that put us up against the wall."
It was not that the Bucs defense played poorly -- Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks completed just 9 of 25 passes for 155 yards. But the Saints were able to take control in the third quarter.
Running back Deuce McAllister ran for 33 yards on eight carries and Brooks threw for 98 yards as the Saints scored two touchdowns in a span of four minutes.
"(McAllister) was particularly hurting us with the kinds of runs he had," linebacker Shelton Quarles said. "They were primarily power runs up the middle. And that stuff is stuff we usually play a lot better than we did tonight."
Uncharacteristically against the Bucs' cover-2, the Saints' deadly blow came on a big pass play. Facing third and 7 from their 49, Brooks found Joe Horn behind the secondary for a 52-yard gain. The Saints scored three plays later.
"Two games this year this has happened, and it's uncharacteristic of us," Barber said. "We played hard, but we had breakdowns. We let them get behind in the secondary, and that's not how we play."