Defense pitches second half shutout
The Bucs defense performed in Sunday's first half much like it did the week before against the Saints — yielding points and yards in heaping doses. The Rams scored on three of their first four possessions, taking a 17-3 lead. RB Steven Jackson was running at will, racking up 74 rushing yards and averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Then came the second half, when the Bucs limited the Rams to 6 first downs and kept them off the scoreboard. "We don't dwell on the consequences of a bad half," CB Ronde Barber said. "It's hard to explain, but it's really a stress-free attitude in our locker room (at halftime). I think some of that is from (coach Raheem Morris). It reflects on us. He's the antithesis of a hard-nosed, punish-you-for-playing-bad sort of coach. He just lets it run off his shoulders. He just keeps it moving. It showed up in the second half today." The defense punished Jackson, matching his physical style of running and holding him to 36 yards on 8 carries in the second half. The defense also kept rookie QB Sam Bradford, the draft's top overall pick, from getting into a rhythm. "(Jackson is) always going to make a few guys miss, but it was more blown assignments in the first half," LB Barrett Ruud said. "With him, you have to tackle him at the line of scrimmage, or at least attempt to tackle him at the line of scrimmage. Because then, you give a chance to the next guy to come in and help out. "But when he's coming in there and not getting touched for 5 or 6 yards, he's going to be a problem. We did a much better job of being on our assignments and having multiple guys near the line of scrimmage." Between last week's Saints game (a 31-6 loss) and the first half Sunday, the Bucs defense had given up 48 points over their previous six quarters. So the zeroes during Sunday's third and fourth quarters were quite promising because they came in spite of the defense's imperfections. "We easily went out there and put together one of the worst first halves of my tenure," Morris said. "If you want to add the Saints game (last week), you could say six quarters. But this team plays 60 minutes. There's no doubt about that. They have no give-up in them. They have nothing but fight."
Caddy catching on
Once, the fact RB Cadillac Williams caught the game-winning touchdown pass would have sounded strange.
Rarely considered a receiving option in the red zone earlier in his career, he caught his first three touchdowns last season, in his fifth year as a pro. Now, he's on pace to exceed his career-high 30 receptions (in 2006) after catching eight passes for 34 yards on Sunday against the Rams, giving him 23 this season.
It was the third time in 2010 that Williams has led or tied the club for receptions, and he hopes there are more to come.
"That's something that I've worked hard on and I definitely have a knack for doing, getting involved in the passing game and picking up blitzes," Williams said. "So it's no surprise that I was out there catching balls and being more involved in the passing game."
It remains to be seen what happens with the roles in the backfield given LeGarrette Blount's breakout performance on Sunday (72 yards on 11 carries). But if Blount takes a larger share of the carries, Williams certainly seems capable of handling the role of third-down back given his ability to catch the ball and make plays in the open field.
As a young player, even during his record-setting rookie campaign, Williams was seen as a player who didn't have the surest hands. It's a reputation he detests, and is determined to prove is undeserved.
"I am better at it, but I can also say that I'm getting more opportunities in the passing game," Williams said. "People ask me, 'Why do they say you have bad hands?' Guys see me catch in practice and they say, 'Hey, you have pretty good hands.' It's kind of a stigma."
Good day, bad day for Barber
Among the potential goats who were exonerated by the Bucs' late comeback was CB Ronde Barber, who committed a costly offside penalty on a second quarter field goal that resulted in a St. Louis first down and subsequent touchdown.
The Rams were lined up for a 32-yard field goal attempt with 3:53 left in the first half, the Tampa Bay defense having stopped a Sam Bradford pass attempt on third down and 4. But Barber, lined up in the defense's left edge, jumped into the neutral zone just as the ball was snapped, giving the Rams five yards and a first down.
Three plays later, St. Louis scored a touchdown to take a 17-3 lead.
In all, the Bucs were called for 12 penalties for 92 yards Sunday.
"There are a lot of variables in this game that you can't control," Barber said. "Them throwing yellow flags everywhere is certainly not one of them. We have nothing to do with that. All we can do is deal with our situation and try to make the best of it."
But Barber would atone for his miscue, finishing second on the team with 10 tackles, including several at the line of scrimmage on hard-charging RB Stephen Jackson.
. There were a couple of unfamiliar faces in the backfield on Sunday, the result of an injury to FB Earnest Graham (hamstring) who was inactive.
In stepped converted DE Erik Lorig, starting for Graham, while RB/FB Kregg Lumpkin chipped in with a few snaps at both positions. Like Lorig, Lumpkin has only recently started playing fullback, but he performed his duties adeptly for a guy who hasn't been a blocking back since childhood.
Things weren't perfect, but the Bucs backs did prove they have the versatility to make things work even when the situation is less than optimal.
"Today was kind of like a backup plan I guess," Lumpkin said. "With Earnest being down, I was there to support Lorig and support Cadillac (Williams) and LeGarrette (Blount) and whatever they needed. It's just being prepared.
"We're just athletes, all across the board. We're able to step in when somebody's needed and do some good things."
O-line full of mistakes
There was no way to sugar-coat the penalty-filled game by the Bucs offensive line. The unit was flagged nine times for 67 yards, while negating 85 yards in potential gains — a 152-yard swing — leaving a sour taste in their mouths. "It hurt us," T Donald Penn said. "(Coach Raheem Morris) came in at halftime and said ... that it was probably the ugliest half we've played since he's been here."
Said G Davin Joseph: "We were messing up in areas that we shouldn't have — procedure penalties, holding, things of that sort. We were hurting ourself. We found a way to win and that's a positive, but there's a lot of areas we shouldn't have messed up in."
The offensive line had a different (and younger) look, with Jeremy Zuttah filling in at center (for injured Jeff Faine) for the second straight week, and Palm Harbor University product Ted Larsen making his NFL debut at left guard (for injured G Keydrick Vincent). And though Larsen had his struggles, including two penalties, he wasn't alone. Every starter other than Zuttah drew a flag.
"It's the National Football League, so you've got to play your best," Larsen said. "I made some stupid mistakes, so I'm just going to try to get better."
In the fourth quarter, with the Bucs trailing 17-12, T Jeremy Trueblood's penalty for an illegal block (away from the point of attack) thwarted a LeGarrette Blount 46 yard run, eventually leading to a punt.
And James Lee's added an unnecessary roughness penalty, for jumping on the pile late, that set up second and 22 at the Rams 49. Although the Bucs overcame the mistake, it certainly made the drive more challenging.
Joseph said that even though the line was missing two starters, it was no excuse. "We still have the same expectations," he said. "We can try to make excuses, but it's not going to get us anywhere."
. Bucs KR Preston Parker was injured on the opening kickoff and did not return.
. Tampa Bay's inactive list was full of big names Sunday, including starting FB Earnest Graham (hamstring), starting C Jeff Faine (quadriceps), starting G Keydrick Vincent (back), DT Brian Price (hip) and CB Elbert Mack (heel).
. Sunday's 15 unanswered points, after a 17-3 deficit, marked the second double-digit comeback win in 2010 (trailed Browns 14-3 before winning 17-14) and seventh since 2008 for the Bucs.
. For the second time this season, the Bucs did not commit a turnover and earned a victory. The Bucs are now 20-2 since 2002 when they commit no turnovers.
Barth bounces back in big way
Bucs K Connor Barth, who missed his first two field goals of the season last week against the Saints, went 4-for-4 against the Rams, including nailing a 53-yarder in the third quarter.
It was the first time in Barth's career he has made four in one game.
"Those are weird games, when you get opportunities like that," said Barth, who is 10-for-12 this season. "You go from you might kick one in one game and all of a sudden you get four. I'm just happy as hell to bounce back from last week and keep things rolling."
Barth, 24, didn't change his approach, saying he had "good hits" on the two misses last week (which both hit the right upright). But Sunday's performance was a confidence-builder, especially the 53-yarder, his first attempt from more than 50 this season. It was the second-longest field goal of his two-year career; he hit a 54-yarder last season against Miami.
"They actually sent the punt team out first but brought them off because that's definitely within my range," Barth said. "It was just great that I put it through."
He added field goals of 35, 39 and 38 on Sunday.
What made the day even better for Barth was that his parents, Tom and Susan, were in the stands. They typically have to split up so one can watch Barth's younger brother, Casey, who is the kicker for the University of North Carolina. But with the Tar Heels playing in Miami on Saturday night, the Barths drove up to Tampa on Sunday.
"My mom needs to always come, because she didn't come last week," Barth said with a grin. "So she needs to keep coming."