Midway through the third quarter, Fox analyst Brian Billick said, "There's going to be a chance for the Bucs to go vertical here soon." On the next play, QB Jeff Garcia hit WR Antonio Bryant on a 39-yarder for the touchdown. "First time in 10 years," Billick joked about nailing the play. "Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn." Billick always has known his stuff — just ask him, those who have covered him as a coach will tell you. But now he's starting to become a solid analyst after getting his feet under him in, this, his first season behind the microphone. He's full of such good information and such a good talker that it doesn't make sense that he shares a three-man booth with Brian Baldinger. If Fox wanted to be smart, it would have Billick as the lone analyst in a two-man booth.
How cool is it that next week's bigger-than-big game at Carolina will be on Monday Night Football? The only thing that would make it better is if Howard Cosell were there to call it.
All football telecasts try to develop a theme as the game goes along. Sunday's theme by Fox was the weather. Typically, using weather as a major part of the broadcast is a bit overdone. Teams normally aren't affected as much by the cold or heat, snow or rain as you think — or as the broadcasters think. But Sunday's game was affected by the rain, at least for a while, and Fox treated it appropriately. The network had some nice touches — graphics that showed passing numbers before and after the rain, a radar of the Tampa Bay area, shots of the stands temporarily emptied by the downpour — that showed that its "theme" was worth exploring and exploiting.
Clifton Smith did it again. The Bucs return specialist broke a punt return for 42 yards after a 70-yard punt by the Saints' Glenn Pakulak in the second quarter. Fox analyst Brian Baldinger made a good point: "Sometimes you can just punt the ball too far." Baldinger was right. The coverage team took forever to get to Smith, who had yet another big return to solidify his status as already the best returner in team history. "This kid has given this team such a lift," Baldinger said.
Fox reporter Pam Oliver had an interview with Bucs coach Jon Gruden, below, on the pregame show. Not much information that Bucs fans didn't already know, but it's always interesting to listen to Gruden's take on things, and Oliver covered all the angles. The best quote of the whole thing came after the piece when Fox pregame analyst Terry Bradshaw said: "I love Jon Gruden, but I would not want to play for him. I wouldn't want to be in Jeff Garcia's shoes simply because I don't want to have to look over my shoulder."
Best stepping up
Fox analyst Brian Billick piped up just at the right time to expand upon the relationship between Bucs coach Jon Gruden and QB Jeff Garcia. Billick's analyst partner, Brian Baldinger, brought up the topic, talking about how Garcia admitted to him that he "looked slow" and "didn't look" like himself in the opening week loss to New Orleans. And Baldinger claimed Garcia said that Gruden "probably made the right decision" to bench him. We're not exactly sure Garcia feels that way, and Billick stepped up just in time by saying, "Make no mistake, it did affect the relationship between Jeff Garcia and Jon Gruden. … It's a professional relationship now, but I don't think they're going to have a beer together."
This isn't meant to be sexist, but it's a fact: Most female sideline reporters go out of their way to downplay their looks even though that's usually part of the reason they got the job in the first place. That's why it was kind of endearing that Fox sideline reporter Laura Okmin, left, and announcer Dick Stockton had a cute exchange about how the heavy rain had left Okmin looking like, well, she had been out in the rain. Okmin does a good job, so perhaps that is why she felt so comfortable having a little fun with the fact that her makeup wasn't perfect or that her hair was wet. The only nit Sunday was that she didn't get enough air time — not because of her looks but because of the solid information she usually provides.
Great job by Fox showing Bucs QB Jeff Garcia smacking coach Jon Gruden on the rear after Gruden called Garcia's 39-yard touchdown pass to WR Antonio Bryant in the third quarter.
He was out for 14 months. Some thought he might never play again. So you couldn't help but feel good when Cadillac Williams, above, turned the corner and scored on an 8-yard run in the third quarter.