What was it Don Meredith used to sing?
"Turn out the lights, the party's over."
Indeed, Don, indeed.
The party is over for the NFC South. The division will belong to Tampa Bay. It's inevitability.
Well, not completely. If the Bucs totally collapse — meaning lose their final four games — and the Saints win their final four, then yes, they could overtake the Bucs and win the division.
But after Sunday's 27-23 victory over the Saints, do you really think that's going to happen to the Buccaneers?
Not bloody likely, as our British friends like to say.
Luke McCown's stellar performance — for the most part — not only saved the day for the Buccaneers but also gave the team some confidence that the season won't go in the tank if Jeff Garcia misses more time with his injured back.
Could anyone say that seven days ago? Nope.
Joey Galloway had another huge day. The defense came up fairly big in the second half, limiting the Saints offense and covering up that dumbfounding fumble late in the game. Earnest Graham rushed for another 100 yards or so.
It's starting to look formulaic, and the fact that the Bucs have been able to plug numerous players into that formula and still make it work is a credit to the coaching staff and the pro personnel department.
Yes, you heard me. I praised Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen. You have to after this. They made plenty of moves in the offseason, some of which I thought were out of left field or just plain wrong. But, for the most part, they've worked out.
The best move of all this week? Not luring Jake Plummer out of retirement. Had the Bucs done so, we never would have seen what McCown could do.
Is he the future? Who knows. But he gives the team security it didn't have a week ago and that's worth its weight in a division title.
PLAYING FOR SEEDING: It's time to think about playoff seeding. Realistically, the Bucs are looking at the No. 3 or No. 4 playoff seed. Getting the No. 2 seed would be foolish to consider unless Green Bay starts losing. So I won't for now.
The Bucs, if the season ended today, would be No. 4 because they lost to Seattle in the season opener. They have identical 8-4 records and lead their divisions. So, the only way the Bucs could acquire the No. 3 seed — and thus a slightly easier opponent in the Wild Card round — would be to overtake the Seahawks by overall record.
So can they? On paper, it's possible. The Bucs have an awfully favorable schedule ahead. Their remaining opponents — Houston, Atlanta, San Francisco and Carolina — are all under .500. Sure, they have to go to San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean is like kryptonite to them, but the Niners are so bad this year the Bucs might have a shot at winning that one.
The Seahawks, however, have just as easy a road. They face Arizona, Carolina, Baltimore and Atlanta. They even get the Ravens at home. All four of Seattle's opponents are under .500 as well.
So the odds of the Bucs moving up in the playoff seeding isn't likely at this point. I would expect the Buccaneers would see the New York Giants — who helped themselves immensely by rallying to beat Chicago on Sunday — in the Wild Card round at Raymond James Stadium the first weekend in January.
QB Luke McCown : He's needed a chance to prove himself the past three years. He finally got it on Sunday and took full advantage. The Bucs will remember that in the offseason as they determine where to go in the post-Jeff Garcia era one or two years from now.
RB Earnest Graham : He rushed for another 100-yard game on Sunday. It's time to start thinking about how Graham fits into the backfield once Carnell Williams returns. Or is it how Williams fits into the backfield? That's an interesting question as Graham closes in on 1,000 yards.
WR Joey Galloway : Another ho-hum huge game against the Saints. Geez, what does he know about this defense that no one else does?
DT Jovan Haye: He registered a sack and a very timely fumble recovery. I'm torn as to whether I would like to see Haye continue as the under tackle or see the Bucs go after Titans DT Albert Haynesworth in free agency. Haye is making the decision tougher.
Jon Gruden: I don't praise him often, but his play-calling on Sunday was superb. He had a game plan and for the most part pushed all the right buttons. Going for it on fourth down and calling Jerramy Stevens' number on the final drive was a nice touch.
CB Phillip Buchanon : He was burned for the first time this season. It wasn't entirely his fault, though. Brees made two perfect passes.
Saints HC Sean Payton and RB Reggie Bush: They share the blame for that fourth-quarter fumble. Payton made one of the worst play calls I've seen this season. Bush flipped the ball carelessly to Devery Henderson. Like Jackson, it was inexplicable.
Ill-timed penalties: The Bucs offensive line had three of them on Sunday, and all helped derail potential scoring drives.
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: 1; Now: 0
Guess what won't be here next week? With a division title in sight, the heat is off Gruden for this year. It will be interesting to see, though, if the Glazer family extends his contract beyond 2008 or allows Gruden to coach the final year of his current deal without an extension.
THE MATCHUPS IN REVIEW
I highlighted six key matchups entering Sunday's game. How did they turn out? Check it out in this quick review:
BUCS WR JOEY GALLOWAY VS. SAINTS CB JASON DAVID: David probably bore his soul to his local bar keep after the game. "What can I do to stop this guy?" The bartender will likely have no reply. No one in New Orleans has the answer. Galloway had another huge day, catching seven passes for nearly 150 yards.
BUCS RG DAVIN JOSEPH VS. SAINTS DTs ANTWAN LAKE AND BRIAN YOUNG: Young had one tackle, Lake none. It wasn't a total victory for Joseph, because his holding penalty was terribly timed. But the Bucs ran for 172 yards and Joseph helped pave the way.
BUCS RB EARNEST GRAHAM VS. SAINTS MLB MARK SIMONEAU: Graham wins. Scott Fujita had more of an impact on this game than Simoneau. But, either way, Graham had another 100-yard day and wore the Saints down in the second half.
SAINTS RB REGGIE BUSH VS. BUCS WLB CATO JUNE: Did you see the conversation June and Bush had on Sunday? Bush rushed for 64 yards and caught four passes for 13 yards. June had six tackles. June wins narrowly.
SAINTS LT JAMMAL BROWN VS. BUCS RDE GAINES ADAMS: Brown won this matchup early, but like a lot of the Bucs defensive linemen, Adams won it late.
SAINTS WR MARQUES COLSTON VS. BUCS CB PHILLIP BUCHANON: Colston caught just two passes for 39 yards. It was a secondary-wide effort, though, as the second-year pro was the hottest wideout in football the past five games. Buchanon didn't have as much to do with it as I thought he would.
I made 10 predictions before the game. How did I do? Let's check, shall we?
I make five offensive predictions each week. Check back on Monday to see if I'm right.
1. Tampa Bay will rush for no more than 110 yards. I expected the Bucs to struggle a bit with McCown at quarterback, but he didn't. Because the Bucs were able to execute their game plan, they were able to run up more than 170 rushing yards on the Saints, who had a solid run defense entering the game.
2. If Luke McCown starts, he'll make at least two mistakes. Those were easy to spot. There was the interception and the safety. But that was it.
3. But Joey Galloway will catch at least one deep ball. That 60-yarder set up a touchdown. He also had a 42-yarder that was more of a catch and run than a deep pass. But McCown arm strength made that possible.
4. The Bucs will struggle on third down. The Bucs were 5-of-13. That's about their season average. That was a little better than I expected.
5. The Bucs offensive line will allow fewer than two sacks. They actually gave up three, but only one was on them. The other two were on McCown, who should have gotten rid of the football once he left the pocket.
1. Drew Brees will throw at least two touchdowns. Yes, but I thought Brees would throw it 45 times. But the Saints only had the ball for 25 minutes, making that impossible.
2. Reggie Bush will rush for less than 50 yards. He rushed for 64 yards and ran inside a couple of times. But he definitely wasn't explosive. He misses Deuce McAllister.
3. The Bucs will get to Brees for at least three sacks. This was kind of a reach on my part, but it happened. They all came in the second half. I'm not sure how much that put Brees out of rhythm, though.
4. Tampa Bay will force at least three turnovers. They only forced one turnover, and the Bucs didn't force it. The Saints were careless with an ill-advised reverse pitch play in the fourth quarter.
5. The Bucs will score at least one defensive touchdown. Nope.
I picked the Saints to win, 17-10. I dropped to 6-5 in picking the winner, and improved to 5-2 when I pick the Bucs.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.