For the Bucs, on a day in which the temperature on the field at often times rose over the century mark, their defense truly turned up the heat, conjuring up memories of years past, in a 31-14 rout of defending NFC South champion New Orleans.
In addition to that, newly acquired Jeff Garcia looked very much like the QB that revived the Philadelphia Eagles last season, completing 10 of 16 passes for 243 yards, (that’s a whopping 24.3 yards per completion for those unable to do modern day math); including two touchdown tosses to Joey Galloway, who never seems to age.
As someone who has been a big-time doubter of this team, coming off last season’s atrocious 4-12 campaign, and some very precarious personnel moves in recent seasons, yesterday’s home opener came as a huge surprise.
Compared to the opening week loss in Seattle, what did the Bucs do differently to take down the Saints and even up their record at 1-1?
First off, Tampa Bay was able to get consistent pressure on Drew Brees, something they were unable to do against Matt Hasselbeck in week one, and something they certainly could not do against Brees a year ago when he carved the Bucs up as the Saints swept the series.
Although they recorded just two sacks, they were in Brees’s face all day, forcing him into hurried throws, knocking down passes, and even getting their first interception of the season, courtesy of one of the new guys, Cato June.
In fact, the Bucs forced two Saint turnovers (Barrett Ruud recovered a Deuce McAllister fumble, and as another note, the third-year pro out of Nebraska was everywhere yesterday, perhaps beginning to silence some skeptics, including myself, who have questioned why the Buccaneers did not select Lofa Tatupu instead).
Conversely, the Bucs offensive line did an outstanding job protecting Jeff Garcia, after nearly getting him beheaded in Seattle a week earlier, and he was rarely even breathed on by a Saints defender.
Will Smith, notoriously a Bucs killer and remembered infamously for injuring Chris Simms’s shoulder in Simms’s first career start as a Buc, was held in check well by another new addition, Luke Petigout. Tampa Bay also did not turn the ball over at all this week, after giving it up twice against the Seahawks.
So where must the Bucs improve? The run game is still not producing much. Although Cadillac Williams finally reached the endzone, twice in fact (his first touchdown since week three of last season, which was his only TD in ’06) his average was low (24 carries for 61 yards, 2.5 yards a clip).
However, credit Jon Gruden for sticking with the run, and utilizing it to bleed the clock out with a big lead.
Next up for the Bucs? The St Louis Rams come to town. We’ve seen this battle before; no longer is it a Monday night game, and no longer is Mike Martz the Rams head coach. But if the Bucs can duplicate Sunday’s performance, they should be able to knock off the Rams and get to 2-1 on the season.
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