5 plays that could have doomed the Bucs

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
Published December 3, 2007

NEW ORLEANS -Everyone, it seemed, played a role in the Bucs' dramaticvictory. But had the outcome been different - and it very nearly was - there would have been plenty of available goats lined up to take blame. A closer look at five plays that could have cost the Bucs the game but didn't.

The flea-flicker

Late in the first quarter, the Saints faced first and 10 at the Bucs 44. They appeared to start the fresh set of downs with a running play, a handoff to Reggie Bush until ... Bush stopped and tossed the ball back to quarterback Drew Brees. Flea-flicker! Cornerback Phillip Buchanon bit briefly on the run but was in position when Brees launched a deep pass to Marques Colston. Colston, 6 feet 4, made a leaping catch over the 5-11 Buchanon for a 40-yard gain to the Bucs 4. On the next play, Brees hit Terrance Copperwith a fade in the end zone, again over Buchanon, for a 7-3 lead. "I definitely expect myself to make that play even though he's 6-4," Buchanon said. "I would probably want to attack the ball more. Instead of jumping for the ball, attack it more. I bit on the run just a little bit, but I was still in good position. I had a bad jump, and he made a good catch."

The miscommunication

Leading 20-14 late in the third quarter, the Bucs faced third and 10 at their 45. Luke McCown read an all-out blitz by the Saints and changed the play at the line of scrimmage. He gave a hand signal to receiver Joey Galloway, split wide to the right, but did not wait for a reply. Galloway, in single coverage against Mike McKenzie, went deep. McCown, expecting Galloway to run a slant, threw a quick pass McKenzie (with the ball) intercepted and returned 53 yards for a touchdown. "It was just a miscommunication between me and Joey," McCown said. "I gave him a hand signal, and he gave me one back. The (play) clock was at three seconds, I believe, so I wasn't looking at him. I was just hand-signaling, looking at the clock, trying to get the play off. We've got to clean that up. That will certainly come back to bite us if it happens again."

The personal foul

Trailing 21-20 in the third quarter, the Bucs offense was on the move. A pitch to running back Earnest Graham picked up 13 yards to the New Orleans 27. On the play, safety Josh Bullocks grabbed Graham's facemask while pushing him out of bounds, giving the Bucs 15 more yards ... until receiver Michael Clayton flew into the picture. Clayton, thinking the play was still alive, threw a block on Bullocks and was flagged for unnecessary roughness. The fouls offset, and the down was replayed. Graham's gain was wiped out. "I'm a go-ahead guy," Clayton said. "I thought the play was still going. There were no whistles, no nothing, so you make a play. That's how I play. But you have to be smarter, especially in crucial times like that. But at the same time, I felt it was a legal block." The drive stalled, and the Bucs punted.

The bouncing punt

Trailing 21-20 with four minutes left, the Bucs sent in Ike Hilliard, known for his sure hands and smart decisions, to field a punt. Steve Weatherford got off a high kick toward the left sideline, and Hilliard called for a fair catch. But he lost track of the ball. It hit the ground, bounced and went out of bounds at the 2. "I just lost it," Hilliard said. "I actually had a good bead on the ball as soon as it left his foot. We went after (the punt block), so I was pretty much on my own. I took a peek to see where the left gunner was, and when I looked back up, I lost track of the ball. It was totally my mistake." Two plays later, the Saints sacked Luke McCown in the end zone for a safety.

The safety

With the offense backed up late and trailing 21-20, quarterback Luke McCown rolled to his right in the end zone, unable to find a receiver. Rather than throw the ball away, he was tackled by Will Smith (91) for a safety and 23-20 Saints lead. "There were two mistakes that I had that could have turned the tide a little bit," McCown said of the safety and his interception returned for a touchdown. "In a situation like that, where they cover down everything, I've got to throw the ball away, and I take full responsibility for that. I was hoping and praying that our offensive game didn't end with a safety, which it very well could have."