Bucs defense steps up, shuts down Rams
By Fred Goodall
AP SPORTS WRITER
Sunday, Sep. 23 2007
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued to build a new identity
on defense, leaving the winless St. Louis Rams to answer more questions about
another puzzling performance on offense.
Hard-hitting safety Jermaine Phillips and reserve cornerback Phillip
Buchanon intercepted passes as the revamped Bucs throttled Marc Bulger and
routed the sputtering, injury-riddled Rams 24-3 on Sunday.
"Obviously giving up three points is a tremendous feat in pro football, but
we're expecting a lot more from them," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said.
"Nothing's good enough yet on defense, and we're going to hold the standards
where they belong here. Until we get some quick three-and-outs and we start
scoring on defense, we're going to be asking for a lot more."
The Bucs won the Super Bowl five seasons ago and had one of the NFL's
stingiest defenses for nearly a decade before slipping to the middle of the
pack statistically during Tampa Bay's 4-12 finish in 2006.
The unit is still led by Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber. But there are five
new starters and several young reserves like Buchanon -- a former first-round
pick given up on by two other teams -- being counted on, too.
Seldom-used running back Earnest Graham entered the game in the fourth
quarter and scored on runs of 8 and 28 yards for Tampa Bay (2-1). Carnell
"Cadillac" Williams rushed for a 7-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and
Matt Bryant kicked a short field goal in a brief but intense rainstorm to give
the Bucs a 3-0 lead at the half.
St. Louis (0-3) remained winless despite finally getting Steven Jackson
involved in an offense that's suddenly found it difficult to score points. The
fourth-year running back had 115 yards on 30 carries and caught four passes for
"The score doesn't indicate it, but we were right there," Rams coach Scott
"Missed opportunities again. I know it sounds like a broken record, the idea
is not to miss them, and we're working at it. ... We're not seeing any
dividends of our hard work yet."
The Bucs followed up a strong defensive performance in a lopsided victory
over New Orleans with an even more impressive outing, limiting Bulger to 116
yards passing and holding Pro Bowl receiver Torry Holt to less than 100 yards
receiving for the first time in five meetings between the teams.
Bulger, who never really tested the Bucs secondary with deep passes, was
17-for-26 and was intercepted three times. Holt finished with five receptions
for 63 yards after averaging nearly nine catches and 142 yards in four previous
games against the Bucs.
"If you want to blame someone, blame me because as quarterback, it's my job
to get us in (the end zone) and I'm not doing it," Bulger said.
After Jackson averaged 3 yards per carry and 59 yards a game in the first
two weeks, the Rams were determined to get him on track. He carried 18 times
for 63 yards in the first half, and fullback Brian Leonard averaged 5.3 yards
on four attempts when Bulger wasn't handing off to his star runner.
The success on the ground enabled St. Louis to dominate time of possession.
But it was not reflected on the scoreboard after Jeff Wilkins hooked a 42-yard
field goal wide left with two minutes left in the half.
"We kind of figured we were going to be able to pound the ball on them up
and down the field, and in the red zone we wanted to be able to execute. That's
where we came up short," Jackson said. "Once we got to the red zone, we weren't
able to put the defense away."
Williams' TD made it 10-0 early in the third quarter, and the Bucs defense
made the lead stand until Graham took over.
Phillips' interception stopped one promising St. Louis drive in the second
quarter. Buchanon's end zone interception on Bulger's lob throw intended for
Drew Bennett ruined a long march that reached the Bucs' 10 with help from
15-yard penalties on Brooks and Barber.
Wilkins hit the upright on a 43-yard field goal try on the last play of the
third quarter, but the Rams got another chance to get back in the game when
Williams fumbled on the next play. St. Louis turned the mistake into a 25-yard
field goal, then saw any chance for a comeback fade when Graham scored on Tampa
Bay's next two possessions.
"I can't be more pleased," Gruden said. "We were punishing at times
offensively, just the way you want to close out a football game."
Notes: St. Louis, already playing without star T Orlando Pace, lost G Mark
Setterstrom with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. ... Rams WR Isaac Bruce
sat out a portion of the game after he was tackled by Phillips on a reception
in the second quarter. ... Garcia completed 14 of 22 passes for 151 yards and