TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Tom Tupa quickly ran out of options.
The Tampa Bay punter, unable to get a kick off from his own end
zone, tried a desperation pass that sailed into the wrong hands and
gave the New Orleans Saints a 26-20 overtime victory Sunday.
Should Bucs fans panic about the familiar offensive struggles in Gruden's debut?
Panic is probably too strong a term, but I think there is cause for some concern. I'm not sure if it's the offensive system or the personnel. You can bring the West Coast offense to Tampa Bay, but you can't bring Tim Brown, Jerry Rice and Rich Gannon with you too. It probably will take some time for the Bucs to master Gruden's system.
Eric Allen played 14 seasons in the NFL for the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.
Tupa, trying to avoid being tackled for a safety, tossed a weak
left-handed pass with the Saints' Fred McAfee draped on his back.
All rookie linebacker James Allen had to do was raise his hands and
make the game-winning interception.
"I just thought: `Oh, my God,' Allen said. "All I could do was
just shuffle and catch the ball.''
Allen's TD with 2:50 remaining in the extra period provided a
bizarre ending to a frustrating day for Tampa Bay, which scored 10
points in the last three minutes of regulation to extend the game.
"I couldn't punt it, so I was trying to make a play out of
nothing,'' Tupa said. "Unfortunately, the guy got his hand on me
and started wrapping me up. He wrapped up my right arm. That's why
I had to throw it lefty.''
Aaron Brooks threw for 260 yards, including TD passes of 32
yards to Boo Williams and 41 yards to Donte' Stallworth. Deuce McAllister rushed for 109 yards on 31 carries in his first start
since the Saints traded Ricky Williams to the Miami Dolphins.
The Bucs trimmed a 10-point deficit to 20-17 on Brad Johnson's
11-yard TD pass to Joe Jurevicius with 2:41 remaining in the fourth
quarter. They drove from their own 26 to the New Orleans 23 to send
it to overtime on Martin Gramatica's 40-yard field goal on the last
play of regulation.
Johnson completed 28 of 52 passes for 278 yards, including a
4-yard touchdown throw to Keenan McCardell in the third quarter. He
was only sacked three times, but took a beating all day from a
relentless New Orleans pass rush.
The loss spoiled Jon Gruden's debut as Tampa Bay's coach. The
Bucs used four first- and second-round draft picks plus $8 million
to pry him from the Oakland Raiders with hopes he can finally give
them an offense to complement a championship-caliber defense.
"I'm disappointed. But I'm not going to be the one to let this
fester for very long,'' Gruden said. "We have a good football team
and we're going to come back from this.''
Gruden spent the offseason installing his system and signed a
dozen veteran free agents, including McCardell, Jurevicius, Michael Pittman, Ken Dilger, Roman Oben and Kerry Jenkins, to retool the
With right guard Cosey Coleman sidelined by a knee injury and
second-year pro Kenyatta Walker inactive after losing the right
tackle job last week, the Bucs opened with seven new starters on a
unit that ranked 30th is rushing and 26th overall a year ago.
And, for a half, the results were not much better than last
season. The Saints built a 13-3 lead while outgaining Tampa Bay
203-77 and controlling the clock with McAllister rushing for 57
yards on 17 attempts in the first two quarters.
The victory in the first meeting between the teams as members of
the newly formed NFC South avenged a bitter 48-21 loss to the Bucs
"We knew it wasn't going to be a blowout like it was last year.
That was guaranteed,'' said Brooks, who completed 24 of 42 passes
and was intercepted once.
Like Tampa Bay, the Saints also made major changes on offense
during the offseason, trading Williams and placing a priority on
getting more speed at receiver.
Stallworth, the Saints' No. 1 draft pick, showed what his value
can be on his touchdown reception. Brooks hit him along the right
sideline, and the speedy receiver cut inside and easily outran the
pursuit to the end zone.
The touchdown gave the Saints a 20-10 lead that stood until the
Bucs offense finally got going.
"We had to give ourselves a chance to win,'' said Tampa Bay
defensive tackle Warren Sapp. "We fought our way back and had a
golden opportunity, but we just didn't do it. We will learn from
Tampa Bay safety John Lynch left with leg cramps late in
the second quarter, but returned to play the second half. ...
Saints cornerback Fred Thomas broke his right hand in three places
and will undergo surgery Monday. ... The Bucs opened with a
four-receiver set on offense, which meant fullback Mike Alstott was
not in the starting lineup for the first time in 93 career games.
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