The Curse is Lifted

The history and tradition of the NFC South is so rich in tradition that one must look back one full season to view it in its entirety. The Bucs have now defeated everyone in their division, at least once. The Saints were entertaining playoff hopes going into Sunday's game but their ship was sent to the depths in the same fashion as it is in the animated naval engagement that is played on the scoreboard at Raymond James Stadium before every game.

The Buccaneers have been hurt badly by big running backs all year long, but Sunday was a different story. Deuce McAllister had nine consecutive games with over 100 yards rushing heading into this weekend's match up, and probably figured on his tenth since the Bucs' run defense had been less than stellar all season long. It was not to be. McAllister finished the day with 69 yards on 22 carries.

The Bucs' front four played like fans expected them to all year notching seven sacks and forcing quarterback Aaron Brooks to lose three fumbles. Simeon Rice increased his league leading sack total to 15 dropping Brooks three times. He needs two more sacks over the next three games to tie the team record of 17 currently held by teammate Warren Sapp.

Rookie cornerback Ronyell Whitaker rose to the challenge of covering wide receiver Joe Horn, and if you ask Joe Horn, Joe Horn will tell you that covering Joe Horn is not an easy thing to do. Whitaker kept the Pro Bowl receiver out of the end zone. Horn did drop a sure touchdown that would have tied the game, but as it played out, Whitaker is the hero. That makes two receivers in three weeks that have dropped wide open touchdowns – Amani Toomer was the victim two weeks ago on Monday night. Perhaps the intimidation factor has returned along with the Bucs' winning ways.

The offense was struggling due to the erratic play of Brad Johnson. The Buccaneer quarterback has been playing that way since the mid-way point in the season. Luckily, running back Thomas Jones bailed him out by running hard compiling 117 combined total yards. Charles Lee had five catches for 52 yards. It is amazing to see a Bucs receiver actually try to run with the ball after a reception.

Unfortunately, the game was a lot closer than it had to be thanks to the continued struggles of Martin Gramatica, who missed two makable field goals. The turf in the Superdome is not the best surface to kick on according to Saints' kicker John Carney, but tell that to the kickers who were playing outside in freezing temperatures yesterday and they will surely sympathize. The fact is Gramatica's one million dollar salary is about twice as big as it should be. If he has another bad week, his days in the bay area will be over, no matter how much he is liked by Jon Gruden.

When the plastic settled on Sunday in New Orleans, the Bucs were still mathematically alive in the playoffs. They do not control their own destiny, so finishing the season without another loss does not guarantee a spot in the post season. Bucs' fans need the defense to continue forward with the momentum they gained Sunday and pray for the rest of the NFC to go in the tank like Carolina has done over the last two weeks.

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