COMMENTARY | For the second consecutive week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost in crushing fashion, as a strong defensive effort was wasted in a 16-14 defeat to the New Orleans Saints during the home opener on September 15.
While a last-second field goal by Garrett Hartley caused familiar heartbreak for Bucs' fans, the team was further stung by the loss of defensive tackle Derek Landri, who proved the only significant injury of the contest for Tampa Bay.
Landri suffered an apparent knee injury near the end of the second quarter and limped off the field. Prior to injuring his right leg, the 29 year-old participated in a strong goal-line stand by the Bucs' defense, which prevented the Saints from reaching the end-zone prior to the conclusion of the first half.
Ruled out of the game at halftime, Greg Schiano's defense played without the tackle's services for the remainder of the contest.
With Akeem Spence and Gary Gibson rotating in Landri's place, the defense continued to oppose Drew Brees' high-powered attack capably. In fact, the unit put Tampa Bay in position to earn victory, before such hopes were shattered by last-minute miscues, including an errant 46-yard field goal attempt by Rian Lindell.
Yet, a majority of credit for defensive success should go to the team's linebackers and secondary, as those players truly stepped up against one of the league's top quarterbacks. With Josh Freeman unable to mount any consistent offense, a fourth-quarter game changing 85-yard interception return for a touchdown by Mason Foster will likely rank as a season highlight.
Knee injuries are always intimidating news in the NFL.
If the first-year Buccaneer is sidelined for a lengthy period, the team will be challenged by a lack of depth at defensive tackle, where only Gerald McCoy, the rookie Spence, and underwhelming Gibson are currently on the roster.
Signed to a 2 year, $3.25 million offseason contract, Landri was expected not only to back up McCoy, but additionally line up beside the 2012 Pro Bowler on passing downs.
Without Landri, McCoy will be asked to stay on the field longer, and the club must hope Spence is capable of providing added pressure. Though fans should be pleased with overall tenacity of the defense, the Bucs still lack a pass rush from the defensive line.
And it showed when Sunday's game was at stake, as Brees moved the ball 54 yards on 4 plays in less than a minute.
Derek Landri was not on that field of horrors. If healthy, the tackle would have competed during such obvious passing situations.
We'll never know if Landri would have made a difference, but we do know this crushing defeat will significantly impact the 2013 season.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.
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