|Saints-Bucs rematch carries playoff implications for both teams|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 29 November 2007 15:22|
Just accept that sometimes they look as terrific as they did during their inspiring run to the playoffs last season, and other times, they're plain lousy.
There's really no trend indicating which version will show up when the NFC South-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) visit New Orleans (5-6) on Sunday.
The Saints have played marginally worse at home (2-3) than on the road (3-3), but their most impressive performance of the season was a 41-24 victory over Jacksonville in the Louisiana Superdome.
Saints coach Sean Payton said he hoped a later start (the game was moved back from noon to 3:15 p.m. local time for television) would give fans in this late-night party town a chance to get it together before kickoff.
``It will allow them to sleep in a little bit and get revved up,'' Payton said this week with a slight grin. ``We are going to need a great effort from them.''
Based on the result when these teams met in Week 2, the Saints might need a lot more than a change of scenery.
Joey Galloway took advantage of a secondary that has been burned by big plays all season, scoring on 69- and 24-yard touchdown passes from Jeff Garcia.
``I wouldn't say it's a redemption game, but we've just got to play better than we did last time,'' said Saints cornerback Jason David, who was beaten on Galloway's scores. ``We've got to be extra concerned every week from here on ... just from what has happened in the past, guys getting behind us in the secondary.''
A lower back bruise may sideline Garcia this Sunday. Either Luke McKown or Bruce Gradkowski could start in Garcia's place, but Tampa's offense may be the least of New Orleans' concerns.
The Bucs' defense has forced 24 turnovers on 12 interceptions and 12 fumbles. That unit delivered vicious hits in its last meeting with the Saints, forcing Deuce McAllister's fumble and leaving the running back with a swollen eye. The Bucs twice blasted the ball loose from Reggie Bush, although the Saints recovered those.
The Bucs got a second turnover in the game when Cato June intercepted Drew Brees.
``Something that really jumps out at you when you look at this defense is the amount of turnovers they have caused lately,'' Brees said. ``That really seems to create a lot of momentum and points for them. That was something they kind of got us on the first time around.''
Bucs coach Jon Gruden was thankful for the turnovers that lifted the Buccaneers to victory over the Washington Redskins last week. However, he stopped short of comparing his current defense to the one that helped him win the Super Bowl in 2003.
``We had some turnovers, but we also gave up (around) 300 yards in the second half and to be honest with you, the turnovers saved the day for us,'' Gruden said. ``But we have to get some three-and-out stops. ... I'm really pleased with where we are in the turnover ratio, but we need a lot more from our defense.''
Brees is throwing for 273 yards per game and may eclipse 4,000 yards for a second straight season. The Saints' receivers have had trouble holding onto passes at times, but when they're playing well, they can put up a lot of yards. Marques Colston has surpassed 90 yards receiving in each of his last four games.
``They're capable of blowing us out if we're not ready,'' Gruden said. ``We have to be ready for a lot of formations, a lot of passing, a lot of explosive players.''
The Saints' defensive front also has gotten healthier after missing end Charles Grant and tackle Brian Young during New Orleans' past two losses. Grant returned for last week's triumph at Carolina and Young returns on Sunday.
``No one really talks about their defense, but we struggled blocking Will Smith and Charles Grant,'' Gruden said. ``Hollis Thomas and Brian Young have given us problems.''
By winning, Tampa Bay would take a comfortable three-game divisional lead over New Orleans with four games remaining. The situation is more urgent for New Orleans, which needs to win to pull within a game in the division race and remain no worse than one game behind Detroit (6-5) for the final NFC wild-card spot.
The Saints have won five of seven games after an 0-4 start. And David, who never missed the playoffs in his first three NFL seasons with Indianapolis, said the Saints believe they can still make a run at the Super Bowl if they keep improving.
``We're playing better football. That's the thing in the NFL,'' David said. ``I've been on some good teams, went 13-0 and later lost our first game in the playoffs. If we can continue to get better each week, make it to the playoffs and go into the playoffs playing our best football, then we're right where we want to be.''