Special teams have a few blunders, but frustrates the Saints and helps put the game away in the fourth.
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
Published October 11, 2004

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NEW ORLEANS - They call themselves "The Wefense" and why not. When you make plays that impact the game, you deserve your own nickname.

Tampa Bay's special teams on Sunday made a few blunders, which in the past cost them games. But if you're looking for a sign that things could be turning right for the Bucs, the special teams responded by making a series of big plays, then helped ice the game with a huge kickoff return.

So much for the mistakes.

"What you do is you coach the ones you mess up and move on, and the ones you do well on you stress the positives and then move on," special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. "We played with great effort and energy and the penalties could have messed us up after some tremendous plays. But the wefense came with a great attitude and helped us come out with a win."

Kicker Martin Gramatica missed a 41-yard field goal but converted two others, including a 53-yarder that equaled the third best of his career, and Josh Bidwell averaged 46.3 yards on his three punts.

And led by usual suspects Corey Ivy and Dwight Smith, the coverage team never let the Saints' Michael Lewis hurt the Bucs. Lewis, considered one the NFL's most dangerous return specialists, had three punt returns for 25 yards and three kickoff returns for 37 yards.

"We had to play against who we consider a tremendous return man in the league," Bisaccia said. "We had a plan for him on kickoff and a plan for him when we punted the ball. I think we did a tremendous job on coverage. Martin put the ball where he needed to on kickoffs and at the end we thought we were hitting him right on."

There were some letdowns. Ivy drew a second-quarter taunting penalty when Lewis was dragged out of bounds after a 5-yard return.

"I was thinking, "Damn, man, I was just jawing with him"' Ivy said. "But, it was totally my fault."

The defense made it a nonissue on the next play, forcing a Deuce McAllister fumble and returning it 18 yards for a touchdown.

In the third quarter, the Saints converted a 24-yard field goal, but defensive end Dewayne White was called for leaping. The penalty gave the Saints a first down and they scored on a 3-yard pass from Aaron Brooks to Joe Horn two plays later to narrow Tampa Bay's lead to 20-14.

"The linemen get so low that I can jump over them," White said. "So, I jumped and that time he came forward instead of going back and I landed on his back. ... It was a big (mistake), turned the game around four points. But it could have been worse. I was saying all the time, "Oh, God, please, please let us hold on."'

And to do that, the special teams delivered a telling blow in the final minutes. After the Saints made it 20-17 on a 47-yard John Carney field goal, Torrie Cox returned the kickoff 42 yards.

"We needed a play," Cox said. "We were only up by three and we needed a play and a spark. I saw the hole and I just hit it."

But Cox did a bit more, breaking a number of tackles along the way. The effort, which linebacker Derrick Brooks called an example of a player "refusing to go down," was impressive considering Cox just took over the return duties for the injured Frank Murphy.

"It's fun," he said. "I did it in college. It's on right now. I'm trusting my blockers up front. I'm trying to let them know they have a returner back here who is trying to get positive yards. So, I'm having fun right now."

Said Ivy: "It was a great individual effort by him. He broke a couple of tackles and that's what they put him back there to do, make a couple plays when the opportunity presents itself and that's what he did. He's been doing a real good job. We know our roles and we have to play that role when they need it."

[Last modified October 11, 2004, 04:19:58]