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By DAVE SCHEIBER, Times Staff Writer
Published January 7, 2008
[Brendan Fitterer | Times]
TAMPA - They began with a power surge of potent offense and defense, threatening to short-circuit the playoff hopes of the Giants. But in the end, it was the Bucs whose season wound up in darkness Sunday with a 24-14 loss. Here are five plays worth another look as the postseason ended in a flash for Tampa Bay.
Adams gains the upper hand
Before things went south, Gaines Adams gave the Bucs something else to cheer about: their lone sack of Eli Manning. It came during the final minute of the first quarter, moments after an Adams miscue. Facing second and 14 from his 21, Manning had just called timeout. But on the next play, Adams was flagged for being offside. An incompletion followed. Then the first-round pick from Clemson tore around the right side and tackled Manning for an 8-yard loss. Adams, who led all NFL rookies with six sacks in the regular season, forced the Giants to punt. "The quarterback just gave me a look (at the line)," Adams said. "He lifted his leg up, and the center bobbed his head up like he was about to snap it. And I just took off. I just got a really good jump on the ball and got there. It was nice to get that on a key down. It got us off the field."
The final score could have been uglier. But after the Giants' last touchdown, Jeff Garcia marched the Bucs from their 12 to the Giants 6 with 3:30 to play. On first down, he looked to his left and found tight end Alex Smith - the first postseason touchdown of his three-year career.
"It was a play we had run last week, but it had gotten tipped," Smith said. "(Tight end Jerramy Stevens) was the first option. But he got double-teamed. And I was able to come up underneath and make the catch."
Manning, Toomer & Associates Part I
One play awakened the slumbering Giants: an Eli Manning pass barely 90 seconds into the second quarter. New York took over at its 47 after a 36-yard punt by Josh Bidwell and 14-yard return by R.W. McQuarters. After a 4-yard completion to Plaxico Burress, Manning tossed a short pass down the right sideline toward Amani Toomer. Cornerback Brian Kelly went for the interception. Toomer wound up with a 17-yard gain to the Bucs 32. Toomer added catches of 10 and 13 yards, helping set up Manning's 5-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Jacobs that tied it at 7.
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin lamented that his unit yielded several big passing plays by Manning.
"We started off like a house of fire, but we couldn't keep it going. And if we'd made a couple of those plays, then you're done," he said.
"We pressed (Manning) early. That was our whole game plan. But I'll give credit to him. He came back, and he did a nice job. They mixed their run and pass really well."
Kiffin also tipped his hat to Toomer and his fellow receivers.
"They made some great catches," he said. "Those receivers are good. And Manning really put it in there."
Manning, Toomer & Associates Part II
The Eli Manning moment that ultimately undermined Tampa Bay came on the final play of the third quarter. Tampa Bay was still in the game, down 17-7. And the Giants were backed up to the 11 and facing third and 7.
Manning dropped back, double-pumped to buy time and managed to find - who else? - Amani Toomer for an 11-yard gain. The drive didn't stop until Manning hooked up again with Toomer (who finished with seven catches for 74 yards) for a 4-yard touchdown with 8:08 left.
"I would get ready to throw, and the linebacker would run underneath," Manning said about his success with the pump fake. "So I was holding it back and was able to hit a few."
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin couldn't get the completion on third and 7 out of his head.
"That was a big third-down play," he said. "We blitzed him. But they picked it up, and he just scrambled around and got it off. If we'd have gotten off the field on that play, we'd have been sitting great."
A great stop to start
Early on, the Bucs defense set the tone, and one play in particular fired up the frenzied sellout crowd. After going three-and-out on their first series, the Giants faced third and 1 from their 22. Bruising running back Brandon Jacobs aimed for a hole on the right side of the line but was stopped cold for a 1-yard loss by linebacker Barrett Ruud. The Bucs followed with a 10-play, 54-yard touchdown drive.
"It was just a bounce play where I read it fairly well. And I was able to shoot through before the lineman could get to me and make the tackle on him," Ruud said. "We started off well. We just didn't execute later in the game as well as we did earlier."
[Last modified January 6, 2008, 22:31:19]