The Bucs (8-6) took a big step toward making the playoffs for
the fourth time in five seasons Sunday, routing New Orleans 48-21
for a one-game lead over the Saints (7-7) in the race for an NFC
"We're in the driver's seat now," Sapp said. "We've got to
crank the car up and mash the gas."
Brad Johnson threw three touchdown passes and Martin Gramatica
kicked four field goals before being leaving with an injury as
Tampa Bay rebounded from a 24-point road loss to Chicago with a
Mike Alstott rushed for 101 yards and one touchdown, while Ronde
Barber returned one of his three interceptions 36 yards for a TD
with two minutes left.
Is Norman Hand that important to the Saints' defense?
Hand is a key part of the Saints' run-stopping defense, but having him
wouldn't have stopped the Bucs' big kickoff return or prevented Aaron Brooks
from throwing interceptions.
Tampa Bay was just playing at an extremely high level Sunday, and New
Orleans couldn't match that level. Everything went right for the Bucs --
offense, defense, special teams -- and everything went wrong for the Saints.
In a must-win game for both teams, the Saints couldn't match the Bucs'
ESPN.com's Vinny Cerrato was director of player personnel for the
Redskins and 49ers.
With Gramatica sidelined by a strained right hamstring, the Bucs
finished the blowout with a 2-point conversion to equal the
franchise record for points in a game.
"We've got some big-time players in this room and the bigger
the game, we usually step up our performance," said Sapp, who sat
out most of the fourth quarter with a sore left shoulder. "We had
to have this one, and we got it done against a tough ballclub."
Tampa Bay improved to 12-1 at home in December under coach Tony
Dungy. The Bucs close with home games against Baltimore and
Philadelphia, while the Saints will play their last two at the
Superdome against Washington and San Francisco.
"We have to move on and win our last two games," Saints
receiver Willie Jackson said. "If they stumble again, we'll be
The loss was the second straight for New Orleans, coming off a
Monday night loss to St. Louis that dropped the Saints back into a
tie for the sixth and final NFC playoff position.
"It's embarrassing, but you have to move on and try to put it
behind you as quickly as possible," Saints defensive end Joe
Johnson completed 16 of 31 passes for 207 yards and no
Aaron Stecker returned the opening kickoff a Tampa Bay-record 86
yards to set up Johnson's 14-yard TD throw to Karl Williams. Three
plays later, Barber intercepted Aaron Brooks' first pass and Tampa
Bay went up 14-0 on Alstott's 1-yard run.
Johnson also threw touchdown passes of 17 yards to Warrick Dunn
and 4 yards to Dave Moore. Gramatica kicked three of his four field
goals in the first half while the Bucs were building the lead to
"We were bad all around ... fell behind and never had a
chance," said Saints coach Jim Haslett.
"We knew all week we were going to have to gang tackle. We did
the opposite. We let them fall forward, and instead of it being
second-and-9, it was second-and-5, second-and-4. You can't play
defense if you can't tackle."
The Bucs outgained New Orleans 269-34 while limiting the Saints
to just one first down in the opening half. Alstott did much of the
damage, averaging nearly 5 yards a carry as Tampa Bay amassed 104
on the ground before the break.
The Saints led the NFL with 49 sacks, including 21 in their
previous three games. However, a Tampa Bay offensive line that's
had trouble protecting Johnson -- as well as opening holes for the
running game -- did a good job of keeping the quarterback on his
feet and clearing the path for Alstott.
Johnson wasn't sacked, and the Saints didn't force any
"I think it's a big confidence booster for our O line, because
they heard all week long that here comes these four hunters that
were going to kill 'em and drive 'em back, that we we're not going
to be able to run the ball, that we ain't going to be able to do
nothing," Sapp said. "I've always said, just let us get in the
playoffs. If we get there, I like our chances of doing well."
Gramatica grabbed the back of his right leg after his extra
point gave the Bucs a 40-14 lead with 9:03 remaining. He was
replaced on the ensuing kickoff by safety John Lynch.
Gramatica's brother, Bill, a rookie kicker with Arizona,
suffered a season-ending knee injury celebrating a field goal
against the Giants last week.
The Saints played without defensive tackle Norman Hand,
who sat out with a right foot sprain. ... The Bucs held Ricky
Williams to 26 yards rushing on 10 carries ... Keyshawn Johnson,
who started the day with a NFL-leading 100 receptions, had two
catches for 41 yards for Tampa Bay.
Russell Wilson clarified Thursday that he didn't suffer a concussion in the NFC title game, expanding on comments about how he believes recovery water helped him last postseason.
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett has been fined $17,363 for striking Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in the head and neck area during last week's preseason game, a league source confirmed.
Johnny Manziel's sore right elbow will keep him from playing Saturday night against Tampa Bay, and it's unlikely he'll play the following Thursday, either.
President Barack Obama invited former Saints special-teams standout Steve Gleason, who has ALS, backstage after a speech commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was named the successor to Troy Polamalu as the new face -- or should we say hair -- of the Head & Shoulders shampoo brand
The New York Jets added more insurance at quarterback by signing Josh Johnson on Thursday night.