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The Bucs serve up three turnovers, helping the Giants accomplish a key objective.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 7, 2008
[James Borchuck | Times]
TAMPA - It was only right that Giants coach Tom Coughlin's first comments after Sunday's 24-14 elimination of the Bucs from the playoffs were about the importance of winning the battle of turnovers.
Because he had talked about it all week.
"If it wasn't the first thing," defensive end Justin Tuck said, "it was in the top three."
For Coughlin, it was simple math. The Bucs ranked fourth-best in the NFL with a turnover margin of plus-15. The Giants ranked seventh-worst at minus-9. That wasn't going to add up to a win unless the Giants did something about it.
Like intercepting Jeff Garcia twice - once in the end zone - and recovering Micheal Spurlock's fumble on the second-half kickoff.
"We preached all week that this team was plus-15," Coughlin said. "At home, they had really just the one loss we considered (to Jacksonville), and it was by turning the ball over. ... We knew that this team had won when they won the turnover battle and lost the game when they didn't. That was a big objective for us."
The first turnover, Spurlock's fumble, was essentially a gift. Deified three weeks ago after his franchise-first kickoff return for a touchdown, Spurlock was downtrodden after making the key mistake on what he felt had a chance to be a decent outside return.
"You've just got to protect the ball," he said. "Before you do anything with the ball, you have to protect it."
Cornerback Corey Webster recovered on the 30 - "I just saw it rolling," he said - and though the Giants had to settle for a field goal, it let them stretch their lead to 17-7.
Less than four minutes later, Webster made a bigger play, getting inside position on Bucs receiver Joey Galloway and taking advantage of what Garcia called a "poor decision" to intercept a pass in the end zone.
The Giants were in a basic man defense, Webster said, determined not to let the Bucs make any big plays.
Garcia took much of the blame, saying he forced the pass in the face of a blitz and didn't give Galloway "a real good chance to make a play."
But Webster - a substitute starter for injured Sam Madison - had good position.
"He pretty much ran the route for him," Tuck said. "It looked like Garcia was throwing the ball to him."
By the time the Giants made their second interception, with less than two minutes left, their defense had done its part, and quarterback Eli Manning had done the rest with a turnover-free game.
"They forced a couple turnovers, and more than that, we couldn't get any," Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "They played a pretty conservative game plan, ran the ball mostly and threw short passes. Because we didn't do as good of a job stopping the run as we needed to, we didn't force them into enough third and longs, and usually that's where we get our turnovers.
"That was the turning point of the game. That probably was the story of the game."
It was the Giants' story, anyway, and they're sticking to it.
"That was huge," Tuck said. "Coughlin puts out a lot of stats that we kind of say, 'Uhhh, whatever.' But we looked at that, the fact that they win the turnover (battles) and they were plus-15 ... so we knew we needed to get some turnovers."
How important is the turnover battle for the Bucs? Consider these records under Jon Gruden:
[Last modified January 6, 2008, 22:54:21]