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Sound bites

FRANK PASTOR
Published December 8, 2003

They considered the obvious: injuries, penalties, poor special teams play.

They went to the source: "We've got to coach them better," Jon Gruden said.

But in trying to explain the Bucs' 5-7 record entering Sunday's game against the Saints, Fox broadcasters Ron Pitts and Tim Ryan zeroed in on something else: a lack of late defensive heroics. Of linebacker Derrick Brooks' four touchdowns last season, Ryan pointed out, three preserved wins.

And wouldn't you know it? Brooks' fourth-down stop of Deuce McAllister sealed the Bucs' 14-7 win.

Call it foresight, call it luck. But on this, and other matters, the Fox team was on the mark:

SAW IT COMING: In his opening remarks, Ryan said of Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks, "Holding onto the football has been the key for him." Brooks fumbled four times, losing three. Jermaine Phillips' second-quarter recovery set up the Bucs' first TD, and Chartic Darby's fourth-quarter pickup ended the Saints' best chance to tie.

PICKED ON: Pitts correctly pointed out that the Saints were going after rookie cornerback Ronyell Whitaker after Joe Horn dropped a sure TD on a skinny post late in the second quarter. New Orleans went back to Horn on its next possession, but Whitaker broke up a deep pass. The Saints later tried a fade in the end zone, but Whitaker again was up to the task.

BETTER LATE ... Thomas Jones carried three times before Ryan explained that Jones started in place of Michael Pittman because Gruden wants to use the final four games as an audition to determine whether to bring Jones back next season.

SAME OLD STORY: It took only one turnover on downs before Ryan brought up Keyshawn Johnson's absence: "You can say what you want about Keyshawn Johnson being deactivated ... you're still losing something when you lose Key in the passing game."

OH, REALLY? Though he didn't mention it before the play, Ryan was only too happy to pat himself on the back ("I knew it," he blurted) after the Saints snapped directly to McAllister on third and 4 to pick up a first down late in the first quarter.

ON THE SPOT: Only a few plays after Bucs safety John Lynch left, sideline reporter Darrell Greene announced Lynch sustained a stinger to his right shoulder. Ryan quickly explained that the injury was related to the one that sidelined Lynch earlier this season and was similar to the injury that ended Ryan's career with the Bears.

ON SECOND THOUGHT: After initially placing the blame on the pass rush, Ryan pointed out after a replay review that a coverage breakdown (Ronde Barber appeared to be in man-to-man, Phillips in zone) by the Bucs left Boo Williams open for a first-quarter touchdown catch.

DIDN'T SEE IT: Penalized for "leaping" this season, the Bucs found themselves on the receiving end of another unusual call when backup quarterback Shaun King was flagged for leaving the bench to talk to a player on the field. Fox gets credit for quickly recognizing King was the perpetrator, but viewers deserved a replay as it is unlikely they will ever see the penalty again.

GRASS IS GREENER: Viewers didn't hear much from Greene, but he made one of the best observations when he pointed out that a new Louisiana Superdome surface made it difficult for kickers to plant and might have been a factor in three missed field goals, two by the Bucs' Martin Gramatica.

WHO CARES? Technically, David Gibson's punt block was not a turnover, Pitts told viewers. Technically, Aaron Brooks' first fumble did not count as a forced fumble because the ball slipped out of his hands.

Technically, this is the kind of overanalysis that turns viewers off.

BEST LINE: "He scared the daylights out of the Bucs defense." - Pitts after Boo Williams' touchdown catch.

WORST LINE: "Who said big men can't jump?" - Pitts after Warren Sapp's leaping touchdown catch just before halftime.

GEE, THANKS: The Bucs were included in Fox's viewer poll, but not for the reasons they might have hoped. Viewers were asked whether the Bucs, Raiders, Steelers, 49ers or Giants was the biggest disappointment this season. By the end of the game, Tampa Bay appeared the runaway winner with 43 percent of the votes, followed by Oakland with 23 percent.

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