The pulse is faint, but it still registers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still on life support, but a 35-3 romp over the pitiful San Francisco 49ers means the Bucs still have a desperate, fighting shot at a playoff berth. It is way to early to get excited and a lot of dominoes have to fall a lot of ways, but, with a 4-6 record in the parity-filled NFC, it's not over yet.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks pulled out the oldest cliché in an NFL book full of them, but in the Bucs' case, it rang true.
"You got to take it one game at a time,'' Brooks said when asked if his team was finally gaining momentum. "I know it sounds cliché, but then again, it is serious. The best team in the league, New England, preaches that and nobody does it better. You can't get too low on the losses and that is something our team has been able to do all season.''
The game marked a distinct break from the mistake-filled loss at Atlanta last week that put the Bucs in a run-the-table predicament.
"The first difference is we were back at home,'' offensive lineman Derrick Deese said. "The second is that the defense we played last week was bringing a lot of stuff. We got away from our game last week and were wondering about what they were doing. This week we just came out and did what we were supposed to do.''
Of course the Bucs got more than enough help from the 49ers, a once-proud dynasty that tripped over itself all day. Bucs coach Jon Gruden said he wasn't even overly impressed with his team's effort on offense and, to be honest, the Bucs didn't need to do much, not as long as the 49ers were giving them all the help they needed.
Gruden might not have been overly impressed with the offense, but the defense was a different story.
"Our defense played a superb game today,'' Gruden said. "It was a complete defensive game all across the field. We got started early and that first turnover (that led to a Bucs touchdown) got us started.''
Tampa Bay opened the game punting after three plays on its first possession, the San Francisco opened the door after taking the punt. Quarterback Tim Rattay went back to pass and was slammed to the Raymond James Stadium turf by Brooks. Chartric Darby recovered a fumble deep in San Francisco territory, and Michael Pittman capitalized with a 14-yard touchdown run straight up the gut to put the Bucs up, 7-0.
Pittman ran for 106 yards, his fifth straight game over 100 yards.
The Bucs defense sat back and pounded away at the San Francisco ground game, and scored again early in the second quarter when Brian Griese found Joe Jurivicius for a 9-yard touchdown strike to make it 14-0. Tampa Bay started making it a rout on the final minute of the half when Griese and Jurvicius hooked up again, this time from 42 yards.
"Joe is coming all the way back as a football player,'' Gruden said. "He's been frustrated with his injuries, but today was a good sign.''
Pittman scored his second touchdown midway through the third quarter, and Bucs defensive back Torrie Cox capped it off with a 55-yard interception return in the fourth quarter. San Francisco reached the Bucs 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter, but the Bucs held.
Tampa Bay travels to Charlotte for a division game against the Carolina Panthers next Sunday.
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