Bucs looking for consistency, not revenge against Saints
The Super Bowl champions lost to their NFC South rivals twice last season. They haven't forgotten the feeling, but insist payback will not be on their minds when the teams meet again Sunday.
"Revenge is never a factor," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "Obviously, you have a team that is kind of streaky at times and can beat anyone at any time in the league, and that's how this league is."
The Saints (3-5) took advantage of a special teams breakdown in overtime to beat Tampa Bay 26-20 on the road in last year's season opener. They got a dominating rushing performance by Deuce McAllister and a pair of big kick returns from Michael Lewis to hold off the Bucs 23-20 at home in the other meeting.
New Orleans' Aaron Brooks threw for four touchdowns and just one interception in the two games and believes the Saints have been successful against one of the NFL's top defenses because they match up well with the Bucs' speedy lineup.
"We beat them twice last year, and we didn't get any recognition for it," Brooks said.
"You just have to play your heart out. You have to go out there and believe in the game plan you are given, go out there and match their talent. Obviously they play with a lot of speed. We have some speed here. We're capable of the things they are. That's the main thing we can look at in trying to repeat our performance."
Defensively, the Bucs (4-3) have not been the same reliable unit that dominated the playoffs last season.
Tampa Bay blew a three-touchdown lead in the final four minutes of regulation before losing to Indianapolis in overtime on Oct. 6. Then it yielded 458 yards, most by an opponent since 1991, in a lopsided loss at San Francisco two weeks ago.
Injuries have been a factor in the team's inability to win consecutive games. But if last week's 16-0 shutout of Dallas is any indication, the defense is regaining some of its swagger.
The Cowboys were limited to just 178 yards despite facing an injury-depleted secondary that started three young players with 11 pro starts between them, along with Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber.
"We feel like if our defense goes out and dominates a game, we will win, regardless of what our offense does," said Barber, who had an interception and forced a fumble.
"Even though our offense is a whole lot better than it ever was in the past, we still feels like it is on our backs. If the other team doesn't cross the goal line, they don't win. The team with the least amount of points loses in this game, so that ultimately falls on our shoulders."
Turnovers and poor run defense have contributed to the Saints' slow start, although they had won two straight before losing to NFC South leader Carolina in overtime last week.
Regardless of their record, Bucs coach Jon Gruden views the Saints as a talented and dangerous opponent.
"They've made a lot of changes on their roster in free agency and maybe they didn't get right out of the gate, but they're a darn good football team," Gruden said.
The Bucs are in the middle of a stretch of four of five games at home and are hoping to put together a streak to position themselves for a strong stretch run and return to the playoffs.
They've lost three games after losing four all last season. But nobody's pushing the panic button.
"We haven't played well enough to win two in a row, so I'm not surprised," defensive tackle Anthony McFarland said. "But it's a long season. We've had several years where we have had to claw and fight down the stretch in November and December to get to where we want to go. We know what it takes, and we know how to get there."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index