Observation Deck: Bucs-Saints review

Did anyone expect Sunday's victory? Maybe. Did anyone expect the Bucs to win that big? Probably not. From the Observation Deck, the Bucs' progress this season will be marked by whether they can leave the past behind — the good and the bad. Plus game balls, the Gruden Heat-O-Meter and more in my exclusive game wrap.

In this edition of "Observation Deck," I give you my unfiltered view of Tampa Bay's victory over New Orleans on Sunday. Who shined? Who stunk? And how hot is it under Jon Gruden's seat? Find out in my weekly game review.

Did anybody see this coming? Anybody?

Sure, I saw some writers pick the Bucs to win (see my prediction and dose of humble pie later in this column). But who seriously thought the Bucs would be up 21-0 on the defending NFC South champs by halftime?

Anybody?

The Buccaneers had not had a lead of that magnitude at halftime since they handed it to San Francisco in November of 2004. Remember that team? Wasn't Dennis Erickson the coach and — let me think about this — former Buc Tim Rattay the quarterback? Wasn't Brian Griese Tampa Bay's quarterback? And why does that seem like eons ago?

Because the Buccaneers have not had an offensive outburst like this since, perhaps, that free-for-all with the Redskins in 2005. You know, the Alstott 2-point conversion game? Mike Alstott received a little ovation during the game on Sunday when he popped up on the Jumbotron. Tampa Bay scored 36 points that Sunday long ago against Washington.

Wasn't it last year they needed a map, compass and three days of provisions to get to the end zone? Or was that last week in Seattle? The Bucs scored 31 points just once last year, coming in that overtime loss to Chicago. The quarterback? Rattay.

Last year the Saints beat the Bucs 31-14 at Raymond James Stadium. This year the Bucs completely turned the tables. Even the score. When was the last time the Bucs held anyone to two second-half scores and so thoroughly dominated defensively that the opponent was rendered useless? Maybe Cleveland last year? Those were the days of Simeon Rice and Shelton Quarles.

Quarles received a nice ovation on Sunday. He was a ceremonial captain, along with Dave Moore, who long-snapped in that Cleveland game. Rice is now in Denver.

All these questions illustrate a point. This Buccaneers team is no longer living on its past. The only way this team will become a better team, and perhaps — don't get excited yet — a playoff team is to forget the past and focus on the future.

And cornerback Ronde Barber made that clear when someone asked him if Sunday's drubbing of the Saints reminded him of the Bucs defenses of old.

"That Bucs defense of old is long done," Barber said. "I was telling a couple of people last week that (it's time) to let that go, man. This has got to be our new defense. This has got to be who we establish ourselves to be now. We're off to a fast start. Our first half in Seattle felt like this, and the whole game today felt like this."

Sunday's win over Seattle can be the foundation for this season, but only if the Buccaneers follow through on the momentum they built on Sunday. Tampa Bay has had so many false starts in this regard the past few years that one victory simply does not make a season.

The past is the past. The future is, well, we'll find out next Sunday against St. Louis.

Game balls

LB Barrett Ruud: The second week in a row for the middle linebacker, and this time he forced a game-changing fumble in the first quarter.

WR Joey Galloway : Do I really need to explain this? Galloway is wondering if he can get the Saints every week.

QB Jeff Garcia : His quarterback rating of 145.8 was near-perfect. Every decision he made was right.

CB Phillip Buchanon : Filling in for Brian Kelly, Buchanon tipped away two key passes in the first half.

LB Cato June : Games like this — five tackles, an interception — are why Tampa Bay signed him.

The disappointments

LB Jeremiah Trotter : Inactive for the second straight week.

WRs Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall : Granted, there weren't many balls to go around on Sunday. But neither had a catch. Yes, Clayton had that great block. But they're receivers for a reason. They need to get involved, and Garcia and head coach Jon Gruden must find a way to do that.

New Orleans: I really thought the Saints were for real this year, that they would take the momentum from last year's run to the NFC title game and turn it into something bigger. Doesn't look that way. Their defensive secondary is atrocious.

The NFC South curse: No NFC South champion has ever successfully defended their crown. After a 0-2 start, the Saints don't resemble their 2006 form one bit. It's early, but the division title appears up for grabs again in 2007. And Tampa Bay is tied for first.

A feel-good story

Defensive end Greg White recorded his first NFL sack on Sunday, dropping Drew Brees to the turf in the third quarter. Jovan Haye recorded his first NFL sack as well.

I brought you White's story last week. He was a five-time loser on cut day since 2002 until he made the Bucs roster this fall. He played Arena Football the past two years and was the AFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2007.

To say that sack meant a lot to White wouldn't be hyperbole.

But it also meant something to at least one of his teammate, end Kevin Carter. Oddly enough, Carter and White knew each other in Tennessee, where Carter played and White tried and failed to make the roster. White did do some time on the Titans' practice squad.

"You know what?" Carter said. "Second chances are great. I knew him back in my Tennessee days when he was on the practice squad up there. He's a guy that, I think, a lot of guys are pulling for. You see him play and you think, ‘Man, this guy can play football. He can rush the passer.' I think it took the right situation and the right setting for him to be able to make a contribution and he's balling out for us."

White was dressing next to Carter and overheard the conversation. I looked over at him and he looked at me.

"I paid him to say that," White said.

Greg, you got your money's worth.

The Gruden Heat-O-Meter

Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden entered this season on the hot seat. Each week I'll take the temperature under that seat.

Last week: 7; Now: 5.

It's still warm under that seat, people. The win is nice and all, but one game doesn't take all the heat off.

This victory was encouraging, though. It gave the impression that the changes the Buccaneers made in the offseason can work to elevate the play of this team. The red zone efficiency and the defensive rotations were key. There's a formula there that can work.

Still, two things are unknown. First, can the Bucs take the momentum from not only this win, but this complete performance and build on it next week? And, what happens when the Bucs play a team that can match their effort? New Orleans didn't, but someone will.

But, for one week at least, we can all turn the burners down a bit. Gruden has said he likes the heat, so let's keep it on him. Maybe it will lead to better things.

My scorecard

If you read my game preview, I picked out 10 things and put forth my predictions. Here's my scorecard (because I'm all about accountability):

Offensive predictions

1. Williams will play, but he'll basically split carries with Graham, and they'll total about 25 touches on Sunday. Nope, wrong about that. Williams carried the ball 24 times and played tough doing it. He told reporters that he wasn't sure if he would play and was up until 4 a.m. Sunday trying to get to sleep. He definitely wanted to play and he came up big with two touchdown runs. He didn't gain a lot of yards, but the fact that he carried the ball 24 times boded well for the Bucs, who are 9-0 when he clears 21 carries.

2. Mark Jones will handle kickoff returns so Graham can play a bigger role in the ground game. Partial credit. Jones returned punts and kickoffs (honestly, that was a gimme). But Graham only touched the ball once.

3. Galloway will catch the Bucs' first touchdown pass this season, and have two catches of 40 yards or more. I love it when I'm right. Galloway scored twice — one a 69-yarder — and caught a 41-yarder in the third quarter to set up a score.

4. Tampa Bay's offensive line will give up fewer than the 5 sacks it gave up last Sunday. Fewer? How about none.

5. The offense will struggle in the red zone, leading to at least two field goals for Matt Bryant. Oops. Way off on this one. The Bucs scored twice in the red zone and Bryant only kicked one, when it didn't matter.

Defensive predictions

1. Gaines Adams will not have a sack. Correct, but he did have his first NFL tipped pass.

2. Cato June will have a better game and notch more than the three tackles he had against Seattle. Let's see — five tackles, an interception and a pass defenses. Yep, that's better.

3. Ronde Barber will grab his first interception of the season, but it won't go for a touchdown. Wrong. Barber had six tackles and two passes defensed, but no picks.

4. Tampa Bay's defensive line will struggle to get pressure on Drew Brees, managing under three sacks and six quarterback hurries. Don't know how to score this. Statistically, I'm right. But in the spirit of the way the front four played, I'm wrong. Partial credit.

5. The Buccaneers will hold Reggie Bush under 75 yards of offense. Yes. Bush had 70 total yards — 27 rushing and 43 receiving.

My game prediction

Saints 27, Bucs 13

Again, I ask — did anyone see this coming? I'm 1-1 so far.

Final, random thoughts

I'm beginning to wonder if the injury to WR Paris Warren was a bigger deal to this offense than we first imagined. Through two weeks the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers — Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall — have one catch. There is going to come a time when Joey Galloway is blanketed in coverage. Can these guys pick up the slack? And would a healthy Warren have made a difference?

Just for grins, here are Galloway's numbers against New Orleans in his past six games one more time — 23 catches, 473 yards, 9 touchdowns (one a punt return).

Cadillac Williams' two touchdown runs against the Saints doubled his output for all of last season. Plus, both came inside the 5-yard line, signaling that he may see more goal-line touches this year (listening fantasy owners?).

Alex Smith's 33-yard catch in the first half was a career long for the tight end.

Watch for Film Session on Tuesday. Plus, I'll be breaking down St. Louis' loss to San Francisco and post my "First Look" story on the Rams on Tuesday.


Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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