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Big hit by a little punter

Tampa Bay held Dallas to a single yard on the game's first possession. Sam Paulescu's ensuing punt was significant for two reasons.

For the Bucs, it marked the debut of Clifton Smith as returner. Activated from the practice squad Saturday, Smith headed straight through the middle of the coverage and appeared headed for a big return.

But just as Smith hit his stride, he was stopped in his tracks, driven onto his back by a vicious hit. And when the bodies unpiled, it was Paulescu, the punter, who had cleaned Smith's clock.

"I was like, 'I got hit by the punter?'" Smith said. "I'm going to hear some stuff for that one (from teammates). He caught me off-balance. But I'll give the punter his respect. He got me."

The 20-yard return was the longest of the season for the Bucs. And they eventually took a 3-0 lead on Matt Bryant's field goal. But the hit by Paulescu, a 6-foot, 195-pounder in his second season, saved a potential touchdown and earned Smith's respect.

Emerging sack master

The Bucs have been bragging about how much DEGaines Adams has improved this season and how his athleticism allows coordinator Monte Kiffin to put pressure on quarterbacks.

Both were on display late in the first half.Adams ran a little stunt to his right, found a big gap in the offensive line and smothered QB Brad Johnson for a 6-yard sack.

It marked Adams' third sack of the season and momentarily thwarted a drive. But a personal foul on CB Ronde Barber on the next play followed by three more defensive penaltiesled to a late Cowboys touchdown and 10-6 halftime lead.

Adams added his team-high fourth sack early in the fourth quarter.

Set and spike

Ever heard the old adage that the best defense is a good offense? WR Joey Galloway proved it with a heads-up play early in the fourth.

With the Cowboys clinging to a 13-9 lead and the Bucs facing second down at their 43, QB Jeff Garcia attempted to hit Galloway on a short pass in the left flat.

One problem: LBDeMarcus Ware had dropped back in coverage and was between the ball and Galloway. Ware tipped the ball in the air and appeared in position for the interception.

But Galloway, who must have played volleyball in his past, spiked the fluttering ball into the turf to avoid the turnover.