Bucs Beat Saints 23-20!
The Bucs, in the pouring rain, managed to hold on and beat the Saints, allowing them to stay on top of the division, go 6-0 at home, and set up a battle of 9-3's on MNF. How did the units do?
Offense: The offense managed to move the ball at times, while being stuffed for stretches. Dunn had problems consistently getting traction on lateral runs, and had to pound it up the middle quite a bit. The result was an average per carry of 3.4 yards. Williams managed to get 4 carries and pounded out 20 yards, including his first TD in over a year, as he ran to the edge while getting excellent blocks from Trueblood and Clayton. Garcia was hot and cold, but more cold than hot. He made some critical plays running the ball for key yards, but his passing efforts left a whole lot to be desired. He went 9 of 23 for the game, and missed some open receivers, including a pass he threw to Clayton that would have been a TD if it was thrown correctly. He did manage to hit Bryant, however, for a 39 yard TD bomb, where he let the ball go just as he was getting creamed. Bryant had to slow up for the ball, but he was wide open after getting both safeties to squat on his moves. Clayton was also the recipient of a 26 yard pass when he was open on an intermediate crossing route. While some of those plays by Garcia were excellent, there were too many times, especially late in the game, when he couldn't convert a third down, and when he ran right into a sack. If Garcia doesn't settle down and maintain sharper play, we won't go far in the playoffs. Let's hope he gets back on track and stays there. Williams should also start getting more carries to give the Bucs another runner to spell Dunn and to give us more power. Caddy looked very good on his runs, and should have gotten more. The offense put up 23 points and did just enough to win the game.
Overall grade: B-
Defense: The defense had a tough task ahead of it: stopping Drew Brees. They managed to shut down the Saints running game, and pretty much forced the Saints to pass for most of the game (Brees threw 47 passes). The Bucs top tier pass defense was solid for much of the game, but did give up some yards. They also gave up a few big plays, but also stuffed some as well. Not only did the secondary manage a few defensed passes, they also picked the ball off 4 times, though one was taken back on a BS penalty on Barber. I should clarify that, of the three that stood, 2 were by DB's, while the third was caused by Barber tipping a pass to the endzone up into the air for June to pick off. That ended a Saints scoring driving. Buchanon's pick basically sealed the game. The linebackers were active with Brooks knocking a pass away and nearly picking another one, giving him 2 defensed passes to go with 5 tackles. Ruud continued to play well, racking up some big stops. June had a couple of key plays including the pick in the endzone. The defensive line helped to make it difficult for the Saints to run. They had problems getting consistent pressure on Brees, but managed to get it at some opportune times. Adams managed to turn the heat up late in the game getting a half sack, several pressures, and hitting Brees on one pass attempt that forced the pass to go awry. Overall, the defense slowed the Saints down enough to win the game. If not for the BS call on Barber, the Saints might have only scored one TD in the whole game.
Overall grade: B+
Special Teams: The Special Teams were awesome yesterday. Smith continued to make big returns happen, helping the Bucs get some excellent field position. He took the opening second half kick 39 yards to the Bucs 39, but got 15 more yards because his face mask was used to bring him down from behind, as he would have gotten more yards than even that. The extra 15 yards set up the offense in Saints territory and led to a TD. Smith averaged 16.4 yards per punt return which helped convert some long punts by the Saints (Gross of 49.4 yards) into a net of just 33 yards per punt. The Bucs' coverage units did an outstanding job of shutting Bush, and others, down in the return game. Bush was held to -16 yards on 2 punts (-4 and -12), for an average of -8 yards per punt return. That made for the weird statistic where Bidwell's net (39.5) was larger than his gross (36.8). The two kick returners, Roby and Meachem, were held to an average of 16 yards per kick return. Overall, the coverage teams were outstanding all game and really helped limit the Saints starting field position. Bryant hit all 3 field goal attempts, including the game winner. His ability to hit 87.5% of his kicks this year, despite the tragic loss of his son, is amazing. Overall, the Special Teams played a huge part in this win.
Overall grade: A
Coaching: Gruden had a solid game plan that worked well at times, but at other times was hampered by poor decisions on Garcia's part. Some nice plays hit the Saints for some big gains, including a nice end around by Bryant, the big wide open pass play to Bryant, Clayton's play, and Williams TD run, all examples of excellent plays that were called and well executed. Some plays could have been better executed, and I think Gruden should have used Williams more, though I think the field conditions may have led to his reluctance to use him. Monte had a pretty good defensive game plan, forcing the Saints to be patient, which is tough for Brees, and to go the whole field. There were times when I think he should have played a little more man coverage, but the defense got it done and made some key turnovers. Bisaccia had his unit playing almost as good as it can possibly play. Only thing missing was a TD return, which nearly happened twice. Overall, the Bucs were able to win a game in sloppy conditions and slow down the Saints' best units to win the game.
Overall grade: B
This was a much needed win and sets the Bucs up with their best record ever after 12 games, matching the 2002 Super Bowl year at 9-3. The Bucs have 2 road contests coming up against the Panthers and Falcons, them come home for two straight winnable games. If they can win one of these road games, and win their last two home games, they'll be in the playoffs, and likely will win the Division. If they beat the Panthers, then they only need to win their home games to win the South and probably to get the BYE.