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Big plays, stops disappear for the defense
By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published November 7, 2005
TAMPA - The Bucs supposedly have a big-play defense, but anyone who has watched its past two games has to wonder where exactly the big play has gone.
It has been virtually nonexistent on the defensive side, and the lack of it has contributed greatly to the Bucs' consecutive losses. No turnovers and one measly sack is the collective tally from Sunday's home loss to Carolina and the defeat at San Francisco last week.
A defense that always has prided itself on forcing the action is suddenly missing in action as it relates to game-changing plays.
"The (other) team is out there getting turnovers, fumbles (and) interceptions for touchdowns," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "You have to counter that and get the ball back for your offense."
It's certainly not for a lack of ability.
"We have enough playmakers," cornerback Juran Bolden said. "It's just some weeks, you don't make that play. It's no need to hang our heads. Everybody wants to make the play. It's just that it hasn't happened."
The Bucs saw a deliberate Carolina passing game Sunday, something that limited the defense's ability to make plays against the pass. The Panthers attempted only 18 passes (against 32 rushes), with quarterback Jake Delhomme completing 11 for 216 yards. But when the opportunities presented themselves, no Tampa Bay defender seized the moment.
Aside from a first-half Carolina possession in which defensive end Dewayne White batted down a pass and sacked Delhomme and defensive tackle Chris Hovan batted down another pass attempt, the Bucs did not have many memorable moments on defense.
Case-in-point: After the Panthers recovered Cadillac Williams' fumble in the first quarter, the Tampa Bay defense had a chance to limit the damage on a third-and-12 situation from the Bucs 34. Instead, receiver Steve Smith got behind the linebackers and caught an 18-yard pass from Delhomme.
Another example: Down three scores, the Bucs gave up a 35-yard touchdown to Smith on third and 2 as the league's hottest receiver ran a takeoff route past cornerback Ronde Barber, who was a half-step behind.
"If you don't get off on third down, then you're in for a long day no matter what you do on first and second (downs)," strong safety Jermaine Phillips said. "We didn't do that."
It's a recurring problem. Last week at San Francisco, the defense gave up a pair of back-breaking first downs late in the game, the first a third-down pass from third-string quarterback Cody Pickett to Brandon Lloyd, the second an 8-yard naked bootleg by Pickett on second and 5.
Ultimately, the way the defense can help this team most is by taking the ball away from opponents.
"When this team is humming on defense, we feed off of turnovers," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "We turn turnovers into touchdowns."