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New Orleans Saints News



As the NFC South makes the turn and heads for home, Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden might consider putting blinders on his team for what promises to be a thrilling stretch run.

With five games remaining, the Buccaneers (8-3) lead Carolina (8-3) by a nose, with Atlanta (7-4) and the Saints (6-5) hot on their tails. The Saints can make up ground with a victory Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

It is the first of three successive divisional games for the Buccaneers, who play at Carolina (Dec. 8) and at Atlanta (Dec. 14).

"For us, the message is very clear . . . it's all about the Saints, because they gave us our only division loss," said Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, whose team holds the tiebreaker over Carolina and is the No. 2 seed in the NFC. "We've got to keep our record at home undefeated."


The Saints withstood a late threat in Week 1 to defeat the Buccaneers 24-20 on Sept. 7 at the Superdome. Drew Brees passed for 343 yards and three touchdowns, but the game was in doubt until linebacker Scott Fujita intercepted Jeff Garcia's fourth-down pass inside the Saints' 20-yard line with 38 seconds remaining. The Saints lead the series 20-13.


Since returning to the starting lineup six games ago, quarterback Jeff Garcia is 5-1. In that span, he has completed 71.6 percent of his passes (136 of 190) for 1,469 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception, for a 100.5 passer rating. Garcia is no Drew Brees, but he's not required to be in Gruden's ball-control offense. With Earnest Graham out for the season, Baton Rouge native Warrick Dunn (team-high 566 yards rushing) and Cadillac Williams will shoulder the load in the running game. Williams played in his first game last week after spending the previous 14 months recovering from a knee injury. Antonio Bryant (54 catches, 673 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Ike Hilliard (36-331-4) are the primary receivers. Saints-killer Joey Galloway (12-134-0) no longer is a viable threat. Tight end Alex Smith is questionable with an ankle injury.


This unit remains the Buccaneers' strength under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Going into Week 13, it ranks fourth in the NFL, yielding 274.7 yards per game. The Bucs are especially stingy on third down, allowing the second lowest conversion percentage in the NFL (32.5 percent). They also rank No. 2 in passing defense, surrendering 174.6 yards. By comparison, the Saints rank No. 1 in total offense (411.9) and No. 1 in passing offense (319.5). The front seven features linebackers Barrett Rudd (team-high 85 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions), Derrick Brooks (49 tackles) and Cato June (45 tackles). Ends Gaines Adams (two interceptions, one score), Greg White, Jimmy Wilkerson and Kevin Carter have combined for 16.5 sacks. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib (three interceptions), Ronde Barber (two interceptions, two sacks, one TD) and Phillip Buchanon (one interception, one score) anchor the secondary. Safety Jermaine Phillips, who missed the past four games with a broken left forearm, may be available.


Kicker Matt Bryant is Mr. Automatic inside the 40, converting all 21 field-goal attempts. Overall, he is 25 of 29 with a long of 49 yards. Punter Josh Bidwell is averaging 45.2 yards, with a net average of 38.6 and a long of 64 yards. Return specialist Clifton Smith is the only Tampa Bay player to return a kickoff and punt for a touchdown in the same season. He also has fumbled in the third quarter of all four games he has played since replacing Dexter Jackson in Week 8. Smith is tied for the league lead in kick returns with a 30.3-yard average. He also leads the league in punt returns with an 18.1-yard averaging, though his 11 returns do not qualify him for the ranking.


Tampa Bay is trying to become the first team in the NFC South to defend its title since the NFL went to eight, four-team divisions in 2002.


4: Offensive touchdowns allowed at home by the Buccaneers, who are 5-0 at Raymond James Stadium.


"With three division games in a row, it's huge. It's huge. If we can get on a streak here, it can really set us apart from the rest of the division and really set us up pretty nicely for the playoffs. Obviously, the first business is the Saints." -- Former Saints center Jeff Faine, who signed with Tampa Bay during the offseason.

-- By Brian Allee-Walsh, Staff writer

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 29, 2008

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Will Allen Name: Will Allen
Position: CB
Age: 29
Experience: 8 years
College: Syracuse
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