Well, what do you know? The Bucs do have a pass rush after all.
It was on full display against Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, who was sacked four times for 29 yards in losses.
DE Gaines Adams decked Ryan twice with a pair of sacks, adding four quarterback hits. DE Greg White added 11/2 sacks, with Kevin Carter collecting the other half.
It was the sort of afternoon that takes a slow toll on a quarterback. As the hits begin to accumulate, his throws suddenly become rushed, his decisionmaking is clouded, and the result is big plays for the defense: fumbles and interceptions. Among them was a pick by S Sabby Piscitelli, his first career interception, setting up a second-quarter field goal. The Bucs recorded just one sack against New Orleans a week ago.
"We got some good rushes today, and we were just lucky they came at a time where we were able to make plays," Adams said. "Everybody was playing downhill today, and everybody was in their gap."
One thing that will get lost in the shuffle: Ryan was savvy enough to step up in the pocket to avoid the rush on several occasions early, but the Bucs appeared to solve that problem by planting NT Chris Hovan in the middle as the heat approached, thereby boxing Ryan in.
"We made the necessary adjustments," Carter allowed, unwilling to get more detailed.
A meaningful INT for Talib
Rookie CB Aqib Talib had visions of goal-line-crossing and big-time celebrating … until Falcons RB Jerious Norwood plopped on him before he could scurry off the turf.
No matter. The rookie had no qualms with his first career interception, however it came. And this one came oddly, at the Falcons 21 on their first possession of the game. Talib looked more like the intended receiver than a defender when rookie Matt Ryan's pass whistled right at him in the left flat.
"I was getting blocked," the Bucs first-round pick said. "The No. 2 receiver, they ran some sort of screen, and he overthrew the screen, and my receiver (Harry Douglas) fell down or something. I don't know. I just know the ball just came right to me. I was thinking end zone, but I was on the ground. Right when I went to get up, someone came down on me."
Talib returned the ball just 2 yards but set a lingering tone for a defense that held Ryan without a completion on his first nine attempts and intercepted him twice.
And he got to hear a Raymond James Stadium crowd cheer for him for the first time when it really mattered. The Kansas alum had been on the sidelines Friday for USF's 37-34 comeback win over the Jayhawks.
"It's tough to win in here," Talib said of the Kansas defeat. "South Florida has great fans. It might have been louder on Friday than it was out here today."
He's more than a blocker
TE John Gilmore wasn't recruited by the Bucs to catch touchdown passes. His role is one of blocker and pass protector. But that didn't stop him from coming through on a couple of crucial plays Sunday — a 5-yard touchdown pass and a rare 36-yard reception that positioned the Bucs at the Atlanta 6. "I don't want John to get confused with his role," coach Jon Gruden said. "He is an outstanding tight end. … I think some of the things he does won't show up on the stat sheet." For Gilmore, it was no shock that he played a role in the passing game. After all, he and QB Brian Griese have a history, both having joined the Bucs after leaving the Bears — next week's opponent. "I've worked a lot with Griese in the past," Gilmore said. "We practiced a lot together, so we were very familiar with each other coming into this week. I had a very good feeling."
Avoiding a sequel
With the Falcons' combo of RBs Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood racking up 318 rushing yards in their Week 1 win over Detroit, the Bucs had one mantra all week: "Stop the run," LB Barrett Ruud said. The Bucs did, holding Atlanta to 105 rushing yards and forcing the Falcons to rely on rookie QB Matt Ryan. "Our defense took it a little personal, what happened last week," S Sabby Piscitelli said of the loss to the Saints, giving up three long scoring plays. "We came out and worked on all cylinders, and I think we were all clicking and making big plays of our own." Turner, who set a franchise record with 220 yards last week, was held to 42 Sunday, and Norwood had 18. Turner said the Bucs took away their cutback lanes. "They didn't have a Part II this week," Bucs DE Gaines Adams said of the Falcons' running tandem.
Helping them out
The Falcons' long scoring drive midway through the third quarter was aided by a reversal from the referees and a penalty by the Bucs. The Falcons' drive, which lasted 13 plays and 75 yards, was capped by Jason Elam's 27-yard field goal. It was nearly a three and out when rookie Matt Ryan's third-down pass to Roddy White on the right sideline was initially ruled short on a third-and-12 pass. But the Falcons challenged the spot, and after a review, they were given a first down. Later in the drive, Bucs DE Greg White was called for a personal foul for a late hit on Ryan, tacking on another 15 yards.
Back in action
WR Michael Clayton, admittedly stung when he was inactive last week at New Orleans, played sparingly against the Falcons on Sunday. He had just one catch for 6 yards. "Not that many (snaps)," Clayton said. "But it was better than last week." The former first-round pick, in the final year of his contract, said last week that he would be open to starting over elsewhere if that meant more opportunities to play. But on Sunday, Clayton said he felt like he would get more chances in the weeks to come.
Rookie LB Geno Hayes, a sixth-round pick out of Florida State, filled in at weakside linebacker when Derrick Brooks sat out in spurts. And Hayes made a good first impression. "Geno did good. He's a real instinctive guy," LB Barrett Ruud said. "Sometimes you see him and it kind of looks like he's lackadaisical or kind of out of it, but he's a real instinctive linebacker, and he does a good job. He really knows his stuff pretty well. He wasn't looking at me. I didn't have to tell him what to do once, so he was on."
Brooks presses on
Was there ever any doubt? Did anyone think Derrick Brooks would cave? Not a chance. The Bucs linebacker started his team-record 194th consecutive game, something that remained in doubt until just before kickoff because of a right hamstring strain suffered in the season opener. "That was the plan, to rest me during the week and then see what God had in store for me on Sunday," the 14-year veteran said. "If you would have seen my leg (last) Monday, you would really understand that it was a miracle I was out there playing." Brooks, 35, played less than usual, leaving an estimated 90 percent of the time when the Bucs switched to a nickel defense, and he missed some series when the Bucs used a full complement of linebackers. They used a few options in those cases, involving Cato June, Quincy Black and sixth-round pick Geno Hayes. Brooks finished with three tackles, but his presence on the field might have affected the game in ways he wasn't even aware as his teammates rallied around him. "I'm proud of Derrick Brooks," coach Jon Gruden said. "No one thought he was going to play. He's an iron man. He's one of the all-time greats."
Tiger Woods strode — make that limped — along the sideline in the first half, resplendent in a Bucs shirt and hat. The Orlando resident, recovering from left knee surgery that has knocked him off the PGA Tour until next season, is an acquaintance of coach Jon Gruden. He attended the Bucs' home playoff game last year and spoke to the team at training camp this summer. Among the other celebrities shorter off the tee at Sunday's game: Tampa resident James Blake and fellow professional tennis player Bob Bryan, along with several members of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which starts training camp Tuesday: Vinny Lecavalier, Shane O'Brien and No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos.
The injury toll
The Bucs weren't fortunate enough to emerge without injury. WR Joey Galloway sustained what the team called a foot sprain in the second half and did not return. He was not available for interviews after the game, but coach Jon Gruden expressed concern, mainly because Galloway missed the entire preseason with a hamstring strain. Rookie CB Aqib Talib strained a hamstring, though he returned briefly in the fourth quarter. The injury forced rookie free agent Elbert Mack into the game. Talib seemed confident he will play at Chicago. CB Phillip Buchanon left briefly in the third quarter but said he was suffering from cramps and quickly returned.
• Former starting QB Jeff Garcia was listed as inactive as the third quarterback.
• Warrick Dunn's 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter tied him for sixth on the Bucs' all-time touchdowns list (27) with Mark Carrier. It was Dunn's first touchdown for the Bucs since Dec. 23, 2001.
• Earnest Graham's 68-yard fourth-quarter touchdown was the longest run by a Buc since Sept. 11, 2005, when Cadillac Williams had a 71-yarder.
• In improving to 10-7 as a starter, QB Brian Griese passed Jeff Garcia for second on the Bucs' all-time winning percentage list. Griese's .588 is second to Shaun King (14-8, .636).
• The Bucs announced a sellout crowd of 63,611, although several rows of empty seats were evident in the upper deck.