Tampa Bay QB Brad Johnson played just about as well as any quarterback could have under the circumstances. Once again, the Bucs' offensive line was overpowered by New Orleans' front-four, which resulted in Johnson being pressured early and often. Despite the constant pressure, Johnson still managed to complete some impressive passes, including 3-of-3 fourth down attempts. Johnson's worst throw of the game came in the fourth quarter when a pass slipped out of his hands and was intercepted by a Jay Bellamy. New Orleans later kicked a field goal, which ended up being the difference in the game. Johnson was sacked four times, which resulted in two fumbles. The fact that Bucs head coach Jon Gruden called several play-action plays when his running game was nonexistent hindered Johnson and Tampa Bay's offense. He completed 28-of-44 passes for 276 yards and he tossed two touchdowns and one interception.
*Tampa Bay converted just 2-of-13 third downs against New Orleans.
Can Tampa Bay's running game possibly get any worse? Forget about giving the ball to a feature back. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden didn't even call enough running plays to get any of the team's backs into a rhythm Sunday night.
Bucs RB Michael Pittman was ineffective, again. He carried the ball eight times for 17 yards as did Mike Alstott. Pittman also caught six passes for 27 yards. Most of those came late in the fourth quarter. But Alstott came up huge when he hauled in a dump pass in the second quarter and sprinted 44 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
Bucs fullback Jameel Cook dropped two passes, but he did catch one for a 13-yard gain.
*Tampa Bay rushed just 16 times for 34 yards (2.1 avg.) on Sunday night.
Bucs wide receiver Keenan McCardell had an outstanding outing against New Orleans. He hauled in 11 passes for 107 yards and he scored one touchdown. McCardell came up with several key catches throughout Sunday night's contest, including a touchdown that came on fourth down in the fourth quarter. McCardell's longest reception on the night was a 27-yarder, which came as a result of his outstanding out-and-up route.
Tampa Bay WR Keyshawn Johnson didn't have a great night in terms of receiving. But he still caught five passes for 53 yards, including a 16-yarder. Perhaps Johnson's biggest play came when he threw a key block downfield for Alstott on "The A-Train's" 44-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Johnson also caught a pass on a 2-point conversion attempt, which put two more points on the board after McCardell's touchdown.
Bucs WR Joe Jurevicius caught two passes for 18 yards, but he dropped a pass while he was wide-open late in the fourth quarter. Luckily for Jurevicius, though, Tampa Bay overcame that drop by getting a first down on the next play. Jurevicius came up with one fourth-down catch of his own, which gave Tampa Bay a first down.
*Although they came up with some big catches, Tampa Bay's receivers had too many drops against New Orleans.
Tampa Bay tight end Ken Dilger caught one pass for 11 yards, which gave Tampa Bay an important first down in the third quarter. Both he and TE Rickey Dudley spent most of the night on the line helping the O-line block. While they did help slow New Orleans' pass rush a bit, it was still too much for Tampa Bay's offensive line to handle.
The Bucs' offensive line was horrendous. They were dominated by New Orleans' front-four all night, which resulted in QB Brad Johnson spending more time on the ground than not. Johnson was sacked four times, including two that were allowed by left tackle Roman Oben. Two of those sacks resulted in Johnson fumbling the ball twice. Oben did, however, throw a nice block on Alstott's 44-yard touchdown reception. Tampa Bay's entire offensive line struggled, but the tackle positions were the two main weaknesses for this unit. Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker was flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty on Dale Carter, and Carter still managed to tackle Michael Pittman behind the line of scrimmage on the play. Walker was also called for holding and right guard Cosey Coleman tripped Brad Johnson on one play to record a sack of his own. The offensive line also struggled to open holes on the few running attempts Bucs head coach Jon Gruden called. In the offensive line's defense, Gruden put them in some difficult situations by calling plays which featured play-action passes when Tampa Bay only rushed the ball a total of 16 times on Sunday night.
*Tampa Bay's offensive line allowed QB Brad Johnson to get sacked four times.
Tampa Bay right defensive end Simeon Rice worked New Orleans left tackle Kyle Turley in the first quarter, recording three sacks and forcing a fumble, which resulted in a safety. Rice's first two sacks knocked the Saints' offense out of field goal range in the first quarter. But Rice, along with Tampa Bay's entire defense, cooled off in the second half after they were kept on the field way too long. Rice recorded five tackles against the Saints.
Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp put plenty of pressure on Saints QB Aaron Brooks throughout the first half, but he was handled well in the second half. Sapp didn't notch a sack and finished the game with five tackles.
Tampa Bay nose tackle Chuck Darby recorded four tackles against the Saints and left defensive end Greg Spires recovered a fumble and notched two tackles.
*Tampa Bay's defensive line held New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister to 99 yards on 27 carries (3.7 avg.).
Tampa Bay's linebackers did a nice job of stopping the run in the first half, but they had allowed McAllister to get too much extra yardage after wrapping him up. Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles led the team in tackles with eight. Bucs strongside linebacker Al Singleton recorded four tackles, including a sack when he blitzed Brooks from the weakside. That sack resulted in a fumble, which bailed Tampa Bay's defense out of a possible scoring drive for New Orleans. Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks recorded just three tackles and missed a tackle on McAllister, which allowed the Saints' running back to stroll into the end zone for a touchdown. Brooks did, however, make a nice open-field tackle on a screen-play in the second quarter, which forced the Saints to punt.
Tampa Bay's defense held New Orleans to just 83 yards of total offense in the first half.
Tampa Bay's secondary struggled for the first time in a long time on Sunday night. They allowed New Orleans QB Aaron Brooks to complete just 9-of-25 pass attempts for two touchdowns, but they couldn't force Brooks into throwing any picks.
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who has played at a Pro Bowl-level this season, struggled to contain Saints WR Joe Horn, who hauled in five passes for 106 yards and one touchdown on Sunday night. Horn scored the 14-yard touchdown in the third quarter by executing an impressive stop-and-go route, which froze Kelly just enough to free him up for the touchdown. Kelly recorded a couple of nice open-field tackles in this contest. He notched three tackles in the game.
Tampa Bay free safety Dexter Jackson also struggled on Sunday night. He recorded seven tackles against New Orleans, but he was involved in a couple of big plays downfield, including a 28-yard completion to Horn on an impressive flee-flicker in the first quarter. Jackson made a nice hit on WR Jerome Pathon in the second quarter, which dislodged the ball from the receiver's hands and caused an incompletion.
Bucs strong safety John Lynch recorded five tackles against the Saints. Lynch came up huge when he stuffed McAllister on a 2-point conversion attempt after a Saints touchdown in the second quarter. Cornerback Ronde Barber notched four tackles.
*Tampa Bay's defense allowed New Orleans' offense to convert 51 percent of its third downs and they allowed Brooks to throw for 155 yards on just nine completions.
This unit was horrible. Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica missed a 42-yard field goal in the first half, which proved to be very costly in a 23-20 game. Gramatica did, however, drill a 51-yarder in the third quarter.
The Bucs' coverage units couldn't stop Saints return man Michael Lewis. He had a 41-yard kickoff return, which later led to a touchdown in the third quarter, and he had a 56-yard kickoff return in the third quarter, which also eventually led to a Saints touchdown. Bucs TE Todd Yoder made the touchdown-saving tackle on Lewis, but as it turned out, it just delayed the inevitable.
Bucs kick returner Aaron Stecker fumbled a kickoff in the third quarter, but Al Singleton's sack/fumble bailed him out of that mistake. Stecker left the game with an injury in the second half, and CB Dwight Smith fielded a kickoff and fumbled it, but the team recovered it. Bucs backup MLB Nate Webster was called for an illegal block in the back in the second quarter, which pinned Tampa Bay's offense at its own 10-yard line. Tampa Bay's special teams unit was also flagged for delay of game late in the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay punter Tom Tupa did a nice job of pinning New Orleans' offense inside the 20-yard line on a couple of occasions. He also had a 70-yard punt in this contest.
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