Bail Out: Defense Preserves Win Over Pack
By Roy Cummings | Tribune StaffTAMPA - Matt Bryant didn't need another sympathy card, another consoling hug or compassionate smile. The only expression of support that was going to make the Bucs kicker feel any better late Sunday was a good stand by his defensive teammates.
Published: September 29, 2008
Published: September 29, 2008
Like the thousands of condolences that have been sent his way since his 3-month-old son Matthew Tryson died unexpectedly Wednesday morning, Bryant got that, too.
Two plays after Bryant's last kickoff drifted out of bounds, giving the Packers one last shot at winning, Gaines Adams intercepted an Aaron Rodgers pass to take Bryant off the hook in what turned out to be an emotionally charged 30-21 Bucs triumph at Raymond James Stadium.
"I would have hated to have gone through the whole game, those guys fighting and me making that game-deciding field goal, only to see it end on a screwed-up kickoff," Bryant said. "But they bailed me out."
They bailed out their quarterback, too. Brian Griese threw three more interceptions Sunday, including a fourth-quarter pick that Charles Woodson returned for a touchdown to give Green Bay a 21-20 lead with 13:43 to play.
Griese has been intercepted six times in the past two games, including five times in the second half of those games, and his passer rating is now well below the mark Jeff Garcia put up while losing his job in Week One.
Griese remains undefeated as the Bucs starter, though, and with Coach Jon Gruden continuing to throw support behind him, there was no indication Sunday that a change was forthcoming.
"Anybody who tries to throw the ball against Green Bay is going to struggle," Gruden said after ordering Griese to throw on 30 of his team's 71 offensive plays. "Green Bay is good."
The Bucs, it seems, are better. Their record, now 3-1 with key victories against potential wild-card contenders Green Bay (2-2) and Chicago, is one indication of that. Their latest defensive effort is another.
The Bucs became the first team this season to intercept Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and they did it three times, breaking a string of 157 attempts without a pick for Brett Favre's successor.
The Bucs also recovered a fumble and ran that in for a touchdown, and they sacked Rodgers three times, knocking him out of the game twice. Their run-stoppers, meanwhile, limited the Packers to 28 yards on 18 carries.
"Stopping the run was the key to it all," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "We were able to make them one-dimensional that way and the guys did a good job of disguising things."
Pressured by four pass rushers most of the day, Rodgers and his replacement, Matt Flynn, spent the afternoon throwing mostly against a seven-man secondary. Their completion figures indicate how tough a job that was.
Rodgers and Flynn completed just 16 of their 32 throws for 171 yards and finished the day with a passer rating of 47.8. Even after allowing just one second-half first down, the Bucs still felt as if they left some plays on the field.
Ronde Barber, who struggled in coverage a week ago at Chicago, slipped on what proved to be a 25-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings in the first quarter, and Derrick Brooks, who had one pick, let two others drop from his hands.
"That's the thing about it," said Brooks, who is still nursing a sore hamstring that has limited his practice time the past two weeks. "As good of a day as it was, it still could have been better."
It's hard to imagine Brooks having a much better day. At a time in his career when many are looking for signs that indicate his play has slipped from an All-Pro level, he continues to provide highlight-reel plays.
He did that Sunday, when two of his three tackles were for losses and he ignited a scoring play by lowering his head and forcing the Ryan Grant fumble that Jermaine Phillips returned for a touchdown.
"I know it's still in me," Brooks said. "But I don't discuss it and I don't get into the debate. I just put my evidence on tape. I had an opportunity to change the critics' minds again today. Hopefully I did that."
Adams doesn't have to worry about critics. Most NFL insiders already see him as one of the game's best young pass rushers, and he's starting to show there are even more sides to his game than that.
His pick Sunday, which set the stage for a late Bucs touchdown, was his second in as many weeks. It came when rush mate Greg White poured into the backfield and hit Rodgers from behind just as the Packers quarterback was releasing the ball.
"I'm just trying to mold myself each game and help the team the best way I can," said Adams, whose pick helped make for a better day for the kicker who buried his son just a day earlier.
"I could see Bryant was down after that last kickoff," said Adams' linemate, Kevin Carter. "So I went over to him and said, 'Hey 3, don't worry about it, man. We've got your back.'"
His and just about everyone else's.
Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.