Buccaneers 10, Saints 3
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)—For all the throat-burning motivational talks feisty Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden has given, few have yielded better results than the friendly ribbing he gave Ronde Barber last week after the veteran cornerback dropped a potential interception.
“He’s walking down the hall and gives you an elbow in the ribs and says, ‘Catch a ball for me this week?”’ Barber said of his coach. “Gruden’s good at that. … That was one thing that I personally didn’t do right last week and he got on me.”
On New Orleans’ final drive, Brooks threw for the end zone on what could have been a game-tying score when Barber picked off the pass, keeping Tampa Bay (8-4) one game behind Carolina (9-3) for first place in the NFC South.
Barber—a 1997 Tampa Bay draft pick who helped the Bucs rise to Super Bowl champions after Gruden’s arrival in 2002—relished the first two interceptions in the coach’s face. Smiling, Gruden said he “ran for cover” after the third.
“As we said coming in here, the great players are going to play great in December and down the stretch, and he did that,” Gruden said. “He’s a guy that has put the Buccaneers on the map. I give him a lot of credit for bringing this franchise back with plays like that.”
Coming off one of his best outings of the season in a victory over the New York Jets a week earlier, Brooks had one of his worst games against Tampa Bay, throwing four interceptions, all in Buccaneers territory.
On all three of his interceptions, Barber appeared to read Brooks’ intentions early and cut underneath the intended receiver.
“Ronde likes to bait quarterbacks,” said Brooks, who played with Barber at Virginia. “He likes to make them think they have that throw in there and he’ll turn his head at the last second. Actually, I made a comment to him today. I said, ‘After all these years, you’re still batin’, huh?”’
Barber stopped the Saints’ first scoring threat when he stepped in front of a pass on the Tampa Bay 16-yard line and returned it 42 yards. Tampa Bay could not take advantage as the ensuing drive ended with a blocked field goal.
But Barber’s second interception, which came on an underthrown deep pass into double coverage, set up the game’s only touchdown.
Five plays later, Simms hit Galloway on an inside route and the receiver cut back outside for a 30-yard score. It was the highlight of an otherwise unspectacular day for Simms, who was 12-of-21 for 123 yards. But Gruden said he was happy with the way Simms handled the running game and managed the clock while avoiding turnovers.
With a number of slippery moves and second-effort gains, Carnell Williams managed 96 yards, but the Saints defense never folded and generally frustrated the Bucs with an array of line stunts and blitzes. It was for naught, however, because of a 4-0 turnover ratio in Tampa Bay’s favor.
“We turned it over way too many times. It’s a shame we didn’t score more points,” Saints coach Jim Haslett said. “If you hold a team to 17 points you should win. We moved the ball well, we just didn’t score enough.”
The Saints (3-9) gained 65 yards on the ground. Brooks finished 18-of-34 for 215 yards, which might have done the job had not he been so erratic.
For an announced crowd of 34,411, it was another day of frustration as the Saints failed to capture their first victory in Louisiana this season. Including the preseason, they have played five times in the state, three in Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina forced the team to relocate its headquarters to San Antonio.
New Orleans’ only score of the game came late in the first half as John Carney’s 26-yard field goal cut the Bucs’ lead to 7-3. The score was set up by Aaron Stecker’s 41 yard gain on a screen pass to the Tampa Bay 25. Louisiana’s football-savvy fans, aware of the Saints’ struggles on screens this season, responded with a sustained standing applause.
Haslett said Saints DT Johnathan Sullivan is expected to have X-rays on his ankle, although Sullivan said he was fine. … The Saints broke Tampa Bay RB Mike Alstott’s string of four games with at least one rushing touchdown. … Todd France, activated the day before the game because of an injury to regular kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring), had his first field goal attempt blocked in the first quarter. It also marked the Saints’ first blocked field goal of the season.