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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Elliott column: Defense Has No Answer For Run

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 27, 2013 at 03:36 AM

TAMPA - As quarterback Jeff Garcia's final pass of the game was tipped into the air and intercepted Sunday evening, making Jacksonville's 24-23 victory official, the prideful Buccaneers defensive unit stood on the sideline like a family portrait. Nobody moved, stunned to a silent halt.

That's what happens when you've just been slapped around by a team with no arms.

'Any loss is difficult,' defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. 'But I'm not going to lie to you. This stings and hurts. It's a tough pill to swallow.'

The Bucs were beaten by an offense that only the 1950s could love. With seldom-used backup quarterback Quinn Gray making his first career start in place of injured David Garrard, Jacksonville went back, back to a time when Bo Schembechler once roamed the football world. Back when only three things happened when a team passed the football, and two of them were bad.

The Jags opened the game by running 14 straight times before Gray finally threw (on his team's second possession) for the first time - a 15-yard dump-off completion that set up a touchdown. After that, they pretty much decided to cool it with the trickery.

While Tampa Bay and Garcia were throwing 41 times, Jacksonville ran and ran and ran. The Jags handed the ball to Fred Taylor 24 times for 68 yards. Maurice Jones-Drew lugged it 10 times for 48 yards. LaBrandon Toefield added six carries.

They ran on first down, on second down and third down - in short-yardage situations and in long.

Don't Be Fooled

If Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio had rented one of those airplanes pulling a banner announcing 'Running Play Coming Next,' the Jaguars' intentions could not have been more obvious.

'We knew they were going to run,' Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. 'They had four or five tight ends out there.'

It didn't matter. With the league's third-ranked rushing offense, Jacksonville stuck to a game plan that had all the subtlety of a jackhammer, only without a break for lunch.

When the Bucs answered with eight defenders in the box, Jacksonville just ran outside before finally holding its breath and allowing Gray to throw 16 times. He completed seven for 100 yards.

But mostly the Jags just ran.

'I really felt like you just witnessed a team empty their bucket,' Del Rio said. 'It wasn't the cleanest game I have ever coached, but certainly one of the most satisfying.'

Before being called into action after Garrard was hurt last week in a loss to Indianapolis, Gray had appeared in four games over four seasons. For pregame preparation, Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had to watch the 6-foot-3, 254-pounder in NFL Europe game film as he led Frankfurt to the 2003 World Bowl.

It is unlikely that film study provided the Bucs much benefit, unless someone noted that Gray sure does hand the ball off nicely.

They Had No Fear

Sunday's message was much easier to recognize. The Buccaneers' defense, the long-celebrated backbone of the franchise, struck no fear into an opponent that lined up with only one objective: Muscle 'em.

'It's a slap in the face,' rookie defensive end Gaines Adams said. 'We've got to get better with our run defense. We did some great things, just not enough to get it done.'

Most obvious in absence were any turnovers - for the second straight week in a second straight loss.

Gray did not suffer an interception, in part because many of his passes that were not short dump-off were so badly thrown no one was going to bring then down. That the Bucs could not cause a fumble only added to the frustration.

'Being shut out in turnover opportunities for a second week in a row - and being negative in that department - that's going to lose football games,' Barber said.

There's no running from the truth.

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