Win in ’09 over Saints key in Bucs’ turnaround

TAMPA – Time will tell if the

Bucs continue to build on early

success. But if they do, you can point to their 20-17 overtime

victory at New Orleans in December as the signature win that began

to turn the franchise around under coach Raheem Morris.

The Saints still needed to win that game to secure homefield

advantage throughout the playoffs, and they exploded to a 17-0 lead

by scoring on their first three possessions.

The

Bucs’ season was circling the drain,

and there was speculation that Morris might not make it to

2010.

But the

Bucs defense shut out the Saints in

the second half, and the team rallied behind RB Cadillac Williams

(24 carries, 129 yards, touchdown) and a 77-yard punt return for a

score by WR Micheal Spurlock.

Of course, had the Saints’ Garrett Hartley not missed a 37-yard

field goal with 5 seconds remaining, the

Bucs never would have had a chance

to win in overtime.

But the victory sparked Tampa Bay to five wins in its past seven

games, including four straight on the road.

“I think it gives you confidence that when you beat the best

team in football, you can beat anybody,” LB Barrett Ruud said. “I

definitely think we got some confidence from that.”

When the Saints come marching into Raymond James Stadium today,

they might not resemble the Super Bowl champs. New Orleans has been

victimized by turnovers – nine in their past three games. QB Drew

Brees threw three picks in a surprising loss to the Cardinals last

week.

Part of the problem is a lack of balance on offense. New Orleans

has been hurt by injuries at running back. Reggie Bush and Pierre

Thomas are out, and the Saints have had to turn to Ladell Betts and

Chris Ivory.

Conversely, Gregg Williams’ defense has always made a living by

creating turnovers, and this season the Saints have created just

one in five games.

The Saints are a more desperate team. But a win by the

Bucs today would signal to the rest

of the NFL that they are for real.

“When you look at what Raheem and his staff (have) done, there

are a lot of new faces, and yet they’re playing with great

intensity; they’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Saints coach

Sean Payton said. “A lot of times, you can see attitude on film,

and I think you can see it with Tampa Bay. I think the players have

played with a lot of energy, and they’ve done a very good job with

the early part of their schedule, and as a result, they’re

3-1.”

Winning formula: As much as any other team, the

Bucs are living off creating

turnovers. They are second in the NFL with nine interceptions

(Falcons, 10).

How else do you explain a 3-1 start for a team that is last in

sacks with four, is 30th against the run – giving up 143 yards per

game – and can’t run the football? And Williams, the starting

tailback, is averaging 2.6 yards.

“If you read anybody’s tip sheet or if you read our team

philosophy or really our mission statement to how we approach a

game, it starts with one thing: score or get the ball back,” Morris

said. “It’s all about getting the ball back for our offense.”

Team building: Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia addressed the

Bucs during their team meeting last

week to kick off the second quarter of the season.

He pulled from memories of the successful first quarter of the

season and challenged the club to make more starting today against

the Saints.

And Bisaccia had players take turns telling teammates what they

meant to each other.

“Our team in the team meeting was able to express to some of

those guys how they value each other and how they feel about each

other,” Morris said. “We had a little floor exercise. I’ll leave

that amongst teammates, but I thought it was pretty special.”

Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@sptimes.com