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The Gripes of Roth
Saints Season Bounces on Hot Air Over Tampa, Resumes Climb
By Roth Tucker - SaintsReport.com Staff Editor - 00:48 CST
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The Saints interrupted the national pressÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ gleeful dismissal of their playoff hopes once again last Sunday night with a stylish victory over the mass-revered Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a score of 23 to 20.
It was, in many ways, a heartwarming victory for those who nourish themselves from the character of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“trueÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? football - that game which places the struggle of two tribes of giants far above the petty idiocies and juvenile boastings of individual players.
Wins like these deserve far more than the clichÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â©d moniker of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“upset.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? They are the all-too-rare victories of those with something to prove, over those to whom something needs to be proved;
Of guts, pain and sacrifice, over privilege, hubris and arrogance;
Of hometown kids picked last (or not at all), over those offended by the very idea of having to be picked;
Of those who have paid dues so high that even the Lombardi Trophy might not be a fair exchange, over those to whom success and fame have come far too easily.
This monumental (and deeply pretentiously recounted) event began with the Buccaneers offense in possession of the football with intent to distribute, which they did at once. The first two plays from the line of scrimmage were (as expected) short passes, which (as feared) quickly earned Brad Johnson four more chances to convert.
This would not, however, be the experiment in mass simultaneous depression that most of the would-be subjects in the Dome were expecting.
For one thing, Mr. Charles Grant ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â known prior to this game as the only defensive lineman still in attendance after the third quarter ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â would show up for an early bird special on the quarterback of the day, as he dropped back to pass on third and seven.
In fact, the famished Mr. Grant seized the Quarterback Surprise with such force that the football tumbled off the plate and was rapidly scavenged by linebacker Charlie Clemons. With nary three minutes played in the game, the Saints are the proud owners of the football at the BuccaneersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ 29-yard line.
But it wonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t be an easy journey. The team must suffice with a deeply courageous but physically compromised Deuce, and a lack of preparation for the BuccaneersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ Simeon Rice. On this first drive, the net result of these forces acting upon each other equals negative one yard, so they will attempt a field goal. Sadly, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“attemptÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? is all that it is. Goggles persist on the scoreboard.
The next series of downs deepen suspicions that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have far fewer members of the original Apostles on their roster than claimed. Brad JohnsonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s throws are short and bad, and even the Saints linebackers are fast enough to cover some receivers. Three and out for the so-favored visitors.
The Saints offense then demonstrates its vast superiority by topping TampaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s three and out with their own four and out. This feat is accomplished with the help of Kyle TurleyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s early start on third and six. Troublingly, Kyle appears to be having more than a little trouble with Simian Rice.
Tampa hates to be outdone in anything, including penalties, so they make their statement by committing the fantastically rare offensive facemask penalty on first down. The uniqueness of this event does not escape Brad Johnson, who is so stunned that he still canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“get his stuff together, manÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? two plays later. As a result, he is assessed the fantastically common penalty of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“delay of gameÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? on 2nd and 24.
Now, at this point, some of the lesser in faith are beginning to wonder when the headline act will show up -- This team is obviously not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, The Unconquerable Football Force. Who let the strike players in?
Tampa eventually connects on a pass or two, but they are ridiculously short given the mini-marathon needed to make a first down. The Saints get it back with four minutes left in the first quarter.
But New Orleans has caught bumble fever, too. The offensive line canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t get anything more than a polite request going, and Brooks is unfamiliar with the experience of throwing out of his own end zone, thanks to the talents of Michael Lewis. These dark forces converge, resulting in a safety for the Buccaneers.
New Orleans 0, Tampa Bay 2, three minutes and twenty seconds to play in the first.
The Buccaneers take the free kick at their 38 and proceed to move the ball under the arm of Fullback and Emerging Problem Mike Alstott.
However, what could have been a really nasty drive is stamped out to some extent by solid linebacker play. The real scary story, however, is Dale Carter, who is going completely berserk whenever the ball is snapped. Carter shoots into the backfield on 2nd down to drop TampaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s RB Pittman for minus two, then materializes on the other side of the field on the following play to end the series by running down Uber-Ego Keyshawn Johnson two yards shy of the first down marker.
The Saints get the ball back in the dim, twilight moments of the first quarter, and Kendall Jacox gets into the spirit by giving Dexter Manley Wannabe Warren Sapp an early Christmas present. The ignorant, jiggly misogynist is allowed to rush Brooks into a downright scary incompletion.
This incident is soon forgotten, however, as Deuce McAllister uses this drive to demonstrate that he can thrash Sapp and the rest of the Tampa line with one foot sprained behind his back.
In fact, the aforementioned sprain will bear the full weight of a ball-laden Deuce six times over the next five minutes of play, racking up 31 yards and scoring a touchdown on ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“What might be the best NFL defense ever!ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? (--ESPN Play-By-Play Specialist statement quoted verbatim, December 1, 2002).
This brings the score to Saints 6, Buccaneers 2. It could have been Saints 7, Buccaneers 2 but for the home teamÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s pathological need to attempt 2-point conversions as frequently as possible, which, in this case, fails.
The Buccaneers get the ball back on their 10-yard line, and are dismayed to find that Dale Carter is still playing like a wild boar with its tail on fire. Large, spoiled pieces of Keyshawn Johnson are splattered all over the field on first down, and Keenan McCardell is turned into a rich creamy paste on second. Brad Johnson, recognizing the early stages of a full-fledged mutiny within the ranks of his wide receivers, begins to throw away from the blood-frenzied Carter.
Frustratingly, however, the sharp sting of this drive will come from a nearly forgotten weakness on the Saints defense. After completing a relatively harmless series of 4 to 6 yard passes, a terrified Brad Johnson will throw to his receiver of last resort ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“safety valveÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? Mike Alstott, who is killing time around the line of scrimmage.
Alstott gathers in the wobbler, but instead of stumbling forward for two or three yards, he is able to run, linebacker-free, 44 yards downfield into the end zone. Saints 6, Buccaneers 9.
The Saints catch a huge, tectonic break on their next series. For reasons known only to the Immortals, New Orleans decides to run an increasingly pained Deuce McAllister to the outside.
This play call is a veritable basket of riddles -- Deuce is clearly in pain at this point, and will be too slow to hit the outside tackle fast enough; heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s been punishing the Tampa line in the middle, where they are smallest and weakest, and the play runs to the strength of the Buccaneers line, which is speed.
The break comes as Deuce is, as expected, hit and tackled behind the line of scrimmage, where he fumbles the football. Fortunately for the Saints, however, the officials are paying very close attention, a virtual guarantee that they will blow the call worse than a cheap trumpet.
The stripes deliver in grand style, and the home team is allowed to go on with their lives as if nothing happened.
The fans notice this, and begin to get a little cocky. On the next play, Joe Horn almost spectacularly catches a football millimeters off the turf. JoeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s impish grin tells the true story, and the pass is ruled incomplete.
The crowd, however, is betting that the officials have been watching this play just as closely as the last one, and loudly demand that the ruling be overturned. Alas, the referees were dozing, so the correct call stands. Four and out for the neighborhood guys.
The following Buccaneers drive contains the next installment in that most fluid and slippery of concepts, roughing the passer. Grady Johnson is the random victim of this weekÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s abuse, as he and All The Rest of Us In The World learn that ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“lowering the headÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? before tackling the quarterback is, in fact, a foul.
This rare, possibly even unprecedented call is yet one more clue in the serialized athletic mystery novel that is ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“How to Tackle the Quarterback.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? It is most remarkable in that it is held clear and distinct from ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“spearing,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? a no-no added to the books some time ago.
For those keeping score at home, as of now, it is illegal to hit the quarterback:
1. Anywhere above the shoulders with your arm;
2. Below the thighs;
3. With the crown of your helmet;
4. With your head at anything lower than the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“2 oÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢clockÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? position, and;
5. Anywhere, if the ball was released more than 1/32 of a step prior to contact.
ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s not as bad as it looks, however. As far as I can tell, the following moves are still on the table:
1. Kicking the quarterback in the head;
2. Kneeing or punching the quarterback in the groin
3. Removing the helmet and beating the quarterback mercilessly with it while maintaining your head in an upright position;
4. Removing and throwing cleats at the quarterback;
5. Grabbing the quarterbackÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s hand and making him slap himself in the head;
6. Spitting on the quarterback;
7. Setting fire to the quarterback;
8. Severely spanking the quarterback, and, of course;
9. Allowing oneself to be physically thrown at the quarterback by a teammate.
YouÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢re welcome Coach Venturi. Hey, we ALL have to do our part, you know?
Interestingly, this penalty comprises most of the Tampa production on this drive, but the ill-gotten gain gets not. GramaticaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s attempted FG boinks harmlessly off the right upright, leaving the score at Tampa 9 New Orleans 6.
With a little more than two minutes left until intermission, the Saints employ the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“Whoopee Offense,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? as Aaron gleefully launches one, then two nonsensical rainbows down the field. Deuce tries to rescue a bad situation with a gutsy screen run, but in his condition, heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s just not quick enough to make it to the marker
But, fortunately for the Saints, the Buccaneers have quarried their offensive strategists rather than hire them. With a full minute and a half left, and the ball on the Tampa 21, the best ideas that Granite, Marble and Limestone can come up with are a couple of off guard runs, interspersed with lackadaisical, romantic strolls up the line of scrimmage. The first half sighs to a quiet end.
But the Saints are rowdy little scamps, and theyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ll make noise if left unsupervised.
So, when they get the ball back at the start of the third quarter, itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s all about disturbing the peace. Jerry Fontenot wants to give Deuce a shot at the QB position, but snapping it to him directly only fetches three yards and a rare Warren Sapp tackle. He starts snapping it to Brooks again, who defends his spot by throwing across six parishes to Joe Horn, wide open as usual. Three plays later, Brooks gets the ball to Jake Reed, who happens to be in the end zone. Saints 13, Buccaneers 9.
On the following kickoff, TampaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s Aaron Stecker appears to have the ball stripped from him after he is down. In a bizarre twist of fate, a review by Tampa shows that, in fact, this was the right call. Amazingly, SteckersÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ knee was not on the ground when the ball came out.
Clearly in shock at the prospect of a correct fumble call, Aaron himself fumbles on the next play. Another correct call results, forming the base of a troubling and unexpected trend in officiating in the NFL. Buccaneers ball, with 12:40 left to play in the third.
The Tampa offense however, is still looking very silly indeed. Michael. Pittman wouldnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t recognize a hole if one suddenly appeared on him, and such holes are pretty hard to find anyway within an inflamed Saints defensive front. Even worse, Brad Johnson picks this particular time bleat out a cry for attention, a lame milking of the now-tired ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“fumbleÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? joke. The Saints want no part in enabling these behaviors, so the Buccaneers petulantly pounce on the ball. Tom Tupa will end up punting the ball away two downs later anyway, and Michael Lewis will return it pretty much to the spot of the fumble.
Deuce is still frightening the Tampa line with his refusal to acknowledge any kind of pain in his lower extremities. Even hopping around on one foot, he can push the corpulent, classless likes of Warren Sapp and his by-products backward 5 or 6 yards any time he wants to.
Deuce, however, will yield the stage on the Buccaneers 14 to Joe Horn, who will perform in tonightÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s main event.
Joe, on third and four, will not so much run a route as he will perform a freestyle ballet down the sidelines. In a move destined for inclusion in Saints highlights until the sun burns out, he floats up to a nervous cornerback, then ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœliterally (LITERALLY) ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âpirouettes around him to jog a lonely five yards into the end zone. On close-ups you could almost make out the sparks coming from the defenderÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s blown cranial fuses.
On the resulting kickoff, the Buccaneers are still convinced that the fumble gag is still good for a couple more laughs, and they go to the well one more time. No laughs, but they get the ball back.
Starting on his own 28, Johnson returns to a short passing game. This is usually a critically damaging strategy against the Saints, but Johnson has missed an important point in watching the films. That point is, of course, that the short passes that kill the Saints are in the 7-11 yard category, not the 1 to 5 yard playpen heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s using. Some of his passes would be considered pitchouts if they were going the other way.
In all fairness to Johnson, however, heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s not being helped by the fact that the Saints line has become increasingly carnivorous while the Tampa OL has become increasingly carrion-like, and that the receivers are now so mortally afraid of Dale Carter that they are dropping passes simply out of respectÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âeven though Carter had been sidelined with an injury some time prior to this point. Nevertheless, the drive is able to creep the 39 yards required for Gramatica to get a field goal right this time. Saints 20, Buccaneers 12.
The Buccaneers have an irritating habit of infecting other offenses with their incompetence, however, and the Saints struggle on the next drive. LeCharles Bentley is having LeTrouble up front, and Brooks is trying to hit the Jumbotron with his passes again. In spite of these problems, the Saints move the ball about 50 yards, and would have moved it further had Aaron spotted an uncovered Jerome Pathon on the final third down of the series. As before, Deuce is able to hopscotch through the tired and out of shape Tampa line with some frequency.
On the next Tampa possession, the Saints are once again beneficiaries of a ferocious defense and an absurdist Buccaneer offensive coordinator.
Starting at his own 14-yard line, Brad Johnson throws what appears to be a seven and one half foot pass at Keyshawn JohnsonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s head, which only scares him more, and causes him to drop it. Mike Alstott has by now ceased to be a factor, and even the Saints linebackers are tormenting him at or behind the line of scrimmage. On third and eight. Brad throws (literally) an eleven-foot pass to impromptu running back Joe Jurevicius, who canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t run the rest of the distance required to convert.
The Saints take over again as the fourth quarter debuts at the 6-yard line. Deuce McAllister appears to be giggling as he pushes the defensive line back eleven yards to the 17. Kyle Turley begins to tease Simeon Rice about this, and both get timeouts from the officials ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â offsetting.
Just to rub it in, Deuce carries the ball on the next five plays, herding the helpless Buccaneer line back to the Saints 32, but the drive will end there. The Saints will punt, pushing the line of scrimmage back to the Tampa 28.
Aaron and company donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t even have time to sit down before they will be called up again. Brad JohnsonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s first down tumbler is picked off by Jay Bellamy, and New Orleans will start at the Tampa 33 yard line. New Orleans isnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t taking any chances here, so after allowing Deuce to once again embarrass Sapp and the Sapp-ettes, they will add a routine field goal to the point pile. Saints 23, Buccaneers 12.
The Buccaneers now start their comeback drive from their 16-yard line with a sack, so make that the 11-yard line. Once again the team goes to the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“Micro PassÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? strategy, but this time itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s having more success, due to poor tackling and ridiculously deep zones called by Venturi.
Even though this game plan is ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“workingÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? in the broadest sense, however, it is doing so with all the speed of a fermentation process. The Buccaneers get the ball with 9:42 left in the game (more than enough time to overcome an 11-point deficit), but as the clock ticks down to 6:20, the Buccaneers have only advanced to mid-field. It will take another two minutes to reach the New Orleans 20. The Buccaneers will eventually reach the Saints 1 yard line, but it will take a full seven minutes to do so, and will require the assistance of yet one more critically poor coaching decision by Jim Haslett and crew, and the standard late-game-ridiculous-pass-interference-penalty.
The coaching decision is another bumble on the decision to accept a penalty. Coach Haslett, when awarded an offensive holding call on 3rd and 10 at the Buccaneer 45, declines it, giving Tampa 10 yards they didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t have, a 4th and 4, and ultimately the critical linchpin in the scoring drive. A tired and overplayed Saints defense never quite recovered from this, and the resulting Tampa touchdown and successful two point conversion brought the score to an uncomfortable and unnecessary Saints 23, Buccaneers 20, with 2:54 left in the game.
The terrible realization of an injured Aaron Brooks came into sharp focus as Jake Delhomme took the field. Despite DeuceÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s toughest efforts, he could only make a few of the ten yards required to win the game.
There was simply no other way. Jake would have to pass. The high drama of the moment had nothing to do with the fanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s perception of JakeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s innate talent ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s shown himself to be a capable and powerful weapon back there ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Â but it had everything to do with the plain fact that a person would be throwing his first pass of the 2002 season for the highest of stakes. One shot, no mulligans.
The pass itself was, by Neo-Saint standards, nothing special. Just another slant in by Joe Horn, and a quick zip from the quarterback. In any other game, at any other time, this is just another ten yards to throw onto a pile of thousands gained through the air this year.
But when a first down gives you four more snap clocks against a losing opponent who canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t stop the clock, this play is a thing of beauty, spectacular in the ordinary, a big play for small yardage, a game winner.
It was almostÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ flamboyant!
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