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By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
Published January 7, 2008
TAMPA - For the first 15 minutes, the Bucs did everything right against the Giants.
On offense, they ran the ball effectively, sprinkled in a few passes and scored a touchdown. On defense, they stopped the run and pressured the quarterback.
At the end of the first quarter, Tampa Bay led 7-0.
Then everything changed.
So stark was the contrast between the first and second quarters, it barely looked like the same game. Suddenly, the Giants were in total control on offense and defense.
At the end of the second quarter, Tampa Bay trailed 14-7.
"They adjusted a little bit faster than we did," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "They had two critical drives in the second quarter that ended up being the difference.
"On top of that, we couldn't get anything going."
The Giants did not get a first down in three first-quarter possessions. Worse than that, they had minus-2 net yards on nine snaps.
Bruising 264-pound running back Brandon Jacobs had four carries for minus-3 yards, and quarterback Eli Manning was 2-of-4 for 9 yards plus an 8-yard sack by Gaines Adams.
"We pressured him early," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said of Manning. "That was our whole game plan. And it rattled him a little bit."
Meanwhile, the Bucs offense was clicking, mixing the run and pass. Workhorse running back Ernest Graham had 30 yards on nine carries, and quarterback Jeff Garcia was 4-of-8 for 47 yards.
During the 10-play, 54-yard scoring drive, Graham touched the ball seven times, six rushes for 27 yards and a 14-yard reception. His 1-yard run made it 7-0 with 1:49 left in the quarter.
On the final play of the quarter, a switch flipped.
Graham was stopped for a 3-yard loss on first down from the Bucs 33, and as the teams changed directions for the second quarter, momentum changed sides as well.
Graham touched the ball only twice in the second quarter - a 2-yard run and 2-yard catch - as the offense generated only 29 net yards, all over the final four minutes.
"We ran the ball well early, so they're not going to let you do that all game,"' Graham said. "They made adjustments. They started bringing some blitzes and doing some different things up front.
"When that happens, you want to hit them for a couple of plays in the passing game. We didn't make those plays. It wasn't wrong to go away from the run. They took it away from us."
The Giants, too, were forced to operate without an effective running game, but Manning made the Bucs pay for their defensive strategy to put the game in his hands.
To beat Tampa Bay's pressure, Manning used a three-step drop and a variety of short passes to receivers Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Steve Smith. Also, speedy running back Ahmad Bradshaw ran effectively as a change of pace to Jacobs.
From minus-2 yards on their first three possessions, the Giants drove a combined 118 yards in their next two, both resulting in touchdowns. Their third drive netted 9 yards before the half ended.
New York led the rest of the way.
Joanne Korth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8810.
[Last modified January 6, 2008, 22:55:28]