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Ronde on the spot

Was there a play Sunday that didn't involve Bucs CB Ronde Barber? The veteran, one week after a two-interception performance at Detroit, had three pass deflections, including one that sent the ball into the hands of LB Cato June in the end zone for a touchback. But Barber had a deflating play when he was called for illegal contact against TE Jeremy Shockey early in the fourth quarter, a penalty that negated S Tanard Jackson's interception. The Saints scored a touchdown three plays later. "You know you're going to get your opportunities," Barber said. "You have to relish it." Regarding the costly penalty, Barber was unrepentant. In his defense, the flag was thrown after the would-be interception was made, although the infraction was deemed to have occurred when the quarterback was still in the pocket. "I don't know when standing your ground watching the play 50 yards on the other side of the field is illegal contact," Barber said. "I think I was in the end zone when the flag was thrown. I thought it was a bad call. It was away from the play. It had no bearing on the play. I feel bad for (Jackson). And it was a scoring drive."

Struggle, and fun, in weather

It wasn't exactly the "Mud Bowl," but Sunday's storms made for tough playing conditions, especially in the first half. Heavy rain made for slippery footing (and forced fans to take cover). Blustery winds came in from seemingly all directions, making passes an adventure. Bucs QB Jeff Garcia put a glove on his throwing hand to help his grip, as did the Saints' Drew Brees. Bucs TE Jerramy Stevens took his off. "They're not built to play in that type of rain," he said. "I thought we handled it pretty well," Bucs C Jeff Faine said. "It was the kind of game the offensive line loves to play in. It kind of slows everybody down a little bit, and we were able to get around." Although it was a more difficult day to throw, Brees — on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season yardage record — still had 47 attempts and 296 yards. But he threw three interceptions. Garcia (9-of-23, 119 yards) admitted he chose to scramble a few times instead of trying to attempt a pass. "A lot of guys dropped balls today," Bucs WR Antonio Bryant said. "It was very uncomfortable to go out there and make those competitive catches." But, for the most part, players said dealing with the elements is part of football and can be fun. "It's like when you're a little kid, you go out in the rain and play," Bucs LB Barrett Ruud said. "It's always good to have a couple of those games." Ruud paused, and smiled. "Not too many."

Welcome back, Caddy

To the end zone, that is. Bucs RB Cadillac Williams hadn't scored a touchdown since Sept. 23, 2007, against the Rams. He made another stride Sunday in his comeback from major reconstructive knee surgery, scoring a pivotal 8-yard touchdown in the third quarter on a sweep around the right end. "I missed (the end zone) with a passion," he said. "You saw when I went down with that devastating injury. I just put in a lot of hard work and a lot of time. It's just so good to see when a plan comes together and things finally pay off. Once I scored, I just kind of reflected on everything." Williams arguably looks like a more purposeful runner post-injury, but whether that is a result of the Bucs' improved offensive line or a change in his approach isn't clear. He didn't necessarily agree, but he did say he has changed in one regard. "I don't think my running has changed, but I will say that I'm a more patient runner," he said. "A lot of times, I used to press a lot. Now, I'm just going to go out and take what the defense gives me and play ball." Williams ran for just 20 yards on four carries, but his carries came at critical times in the game — including a 7-yard gain on an early fourth-and-1 play — unlike last week's mop-up duty at Detroit.

Ball takes a left turn

Saints RB Reggie Bush has three punt-return touchdowns despite having played in just eight games, so the Bucs weren't about to make things easy for him. That was the plan when P Josh Bidwell, left, came on with 7:23 left and the Bucs leading 20-17. In an effort to kick the ball out of bounds — and away from Bush — Bidwell sent it a little too far to the left, giving him an 18-yard kick that gave the Saints prime field position at the Bucs 48, helping them tie the score minutes later. "That was a right-hash punt going to the left," Bidwell said. "You can't give Reggie a whole third of the field, so I really needed to get that one out of bounds. It just went inside on me. … I know I had a bad punt at a bad time, but, fortunately, I think I can count on one hand how many of those I've had in 10 years." Bidwell did have a chance at redemption. After the Saints scored the tying field goal and the Bucs offense stalled on the ensuing drive, Bidwell dropped a 37-yard punt that pinned New Orleans at its own 7, forcing the Saints to be aggressive in a tough area of the field. It didn't work. QB Drew Brees threw an interception to S Jermaine Phillips that set up the Bucs' winning field goal. "It put them in a situation where they had to pass the ball," Bidwell said. "We knew they were going to run certain plays and we were going to run certain defenses to counter." Said coach Jon Gruden: "We asked him to do a hard thing today: directional punt in these conditions. I think he just miss-hit a ball. But for him to step up when we needed him most just goes to show what kind of performer he is."

Run, Jeff, Run

At first glance at the stats, you might wonder how the Bucs ran for 149 yards when RBs Warrick Dunn and Cadillac Williams totaled just 94 between them. Enter QB Jeff Garcia. The torrential rains coupled with the Saints' tight downfield coverage often left Garcia with no good options. So he made the best of it and ran seven times for 42 yards. "There were a couple of times when I stepped up and I probably forced a throw or I tried to make a tight throw when there were lanes for me to just take off and run," he said. "I probably could have moved the chains. So when those opportunities presented themselves later, I was able to do that and convert some third downs and pretty much do whatever I had to do to make things work. It wasn't happening as easily through the air, so we needed to basically battle through it and do what we could do. If I can use my legs at times, then I'll go ahead and do that." Particularly noteworthy was Garcia's 20-yard run on fourth and 3 in the second quarter. With protection breaking down and receivers unable to escape defenders, Garcia shook a couple of would-be tacklers and made a first down and more. The play help set up a 23-yard Matt Bryant field goal.

D-line casualties

The Bucs were missing DE Gaines Adams and DT Jovan Haye — half the starting defensive line — for much of the game. Adams injured his lower extremities but later downplayed it. He still managed to have an impact, recording a half-sack and four official quarterback hits as he continually applied pressure to the Saints' Drew Brees. Haye's injury was clearly more severe. He hurt a knee in the first quarter and did not return. His status for the Dec. 8 game at Carolina isn't known.

Bryant kicks winner — again

Bucs K Matt Bryant, below, converted his third winning kick in the final two minutes of a game this season when he booted a 37-yard field goal with 1:55 left. Bryant connected on winners against the Bears and Chiefs, both in overtime. He is now 28-of-32 (87.5 percent) this season, leading the NFL in made field goals. And Bryant is 24-of-24 on kicks inside 40 yards and 12-of-13 overall in his past four games. "You want to help those 52 other guys, so when you get the opportunity, you just go out and do your best, and it's worked out so far," he said. Asked whether a kicker can find a groove, considering his recent string of success, Bryant said, "If you hit it good, you feel good about it and you obviously build on success. But you don't get too high off the highs and too low of the lows."

Cooling off Brees

About the only way to minimize the inevitable damage Saints QB Drew Brees, below, does to defenses is to apply incessant pressure. The stats will show the Bucs recorded just one sack, same as in the teams' first meeting. But the Bucs did a much better job of getting in his face, forcing him to throw on the run and making the seemingly unflappable Brees uncomfortable. "We were able to do some things to get a little more pressure on him," DE Kevin Carter said. "We had an outstanding blitz package. We had a lot of things to help us from a scheme standpoint, but really, up front we were able to get a better rush. We made some things happen." As for Brees being unshakable, Carter said, "You can jump up in his face (and scream). It just doesn't matter."

Quick hits

• Bucs coach Jon Gruden notched his 100th NFL victory, becoming the third-youngest coach in the modern era to do so. Gruden, 45, trails only John Madden (41) and Bill Cowher (44) in that regard.

• The Bucs' 9-3 record matches the franchise mark for wins through 12 games. The last time the Bucs were 9-3: the 2002 season, when they won the Super Bowl.

Ronde on the spot 11/30/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 1, 2008 1:13pm]
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