Dilfer, Bucs Sail Past Saints

A week ago, Trent Dilfer was watching from the sideline, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn't score and their season was on the skids.

Turns out, all Dilfer needed was a week off and a game against the New Orleans Saints.

Dilfer, benched last week for Eric Zeier, returned Sunday to throw three touchdown passes as the Tampa Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints 31-16.

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Game Summary

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  • "We've been not making the plays, but today we made some, and look what happens, " Dilfer said. "We got that big play early and more than anything else, I think guys were just happy to see us get it in the end zone."

    Dilfer, back in the starting spot because of Zeier's injured ribs, made the most of it, throwing a 62-yard touchdown pass to Jacquez Green, the Bucs' first touchdown in eight quarters.

    It was the third straight game in which an opponent has thrown a long touchdown pass against New Orleans. Last week, the Cleveland Browns beat the Saints with a 56-yard pass on the final play. The week before, the New York Giants hit a 53-yarder to close the first half.

    "We have no answer," Saints cornerback Ashley Ambrose said. "We just can't find a way to win. I don't what the reason is, but we can't get it done."

    Dilfer found John Davis for a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and Martin Gramatica kicked a 35-yard field goal to put the Bucs (4-4) up 17-6 at the half.

    Dilfer, who completed 15 of 20 passes for 227 yards, added a 10-yard touchdown pass to Darnell McDonald in the third quarter.

    Mike Alstott, who rushed for 117 yards on 25 attempts, closed the scoring with a 25-yard touchdown run with 15 seconds remaining in the game. Tampa Bay had scored just eight touchdowns in the seven previous games.

    "We needed this like we need oxygen," Tampa Bay defensive end Chidi Ahanotu said. "We were dying."

    New Orleans (1-7), which has the longest losing streak in the NFL with seven consecutive losses, got field goals of 29, 39 and 37 yards from Doug Brien. Their only touchdown came when Billy Joe Tolliver hit Keith Poole for a 1-yard touchdown with 48 seconds remaining. The touchdown and a field goal raised the Saints' total to 21 points in the fourth quarter in eight games.

    "Right now it doesn't look like there's a whole lot of light at the end of the tunnel," Saints coach Mike Ditka said.

    Ricky Williams, who rushed for 290 yards in the last two games, gained 41 on 14 carries against Tampa Bay. He has still not scored a touchdown.

    Tolliver, playing for the injured Billy Joe Hobert, completed 18 of 37 passes for 211 yards. He also was intercepted twice.

    Bungled plays and calls provided comedy relief from the beginning.

    On the opening kickoff, Reidel Anthony of the Bucs fumbled for no apparent reason on a 55-yard return, but the Bucs recovered. Four plays later, Warrick Dunn fumbled and Saints cornerback Ashley Ambrose recovered.

    On the Saints' first play a 44-yard pass attempt Tolliver was intercepted in the end zone by Ronde Barber. Although the stadium replay clearly showed the ball bouncing on the turf before Barber grabbed it, a challenge by coach Mike Ditka was denied.

    "I got up and ran it out of the end zone o try and cover up the fact that the ball hit the ground," Barber said. "I guess it worked."

    NFL official Art McNally issued a statement saying the reviewing official was not shown the end zone shot that actually showed the ball on the ground, and the play was upheld. The replay booth buzzed the official wanting to show him the incomlete pass, but by that time the 90-second time limit had expired and the play stood. But a second statement later said the official had all the shots, including the end zone shot, but did not have an opportunity to view it.

    The Buccaneers appeared to have fumbled again in the second quarter, and Saints cornerback Fred Weary scooped up the ball and ran for a touchdown. But this time, the Bucs appealed and the officials ruled Dunn down before the fumble. Two plays later, Tampa Bay scored on a 35-yard field goal.


  • Williams' effort to become the fourth back in Saints history to rush for 100 yards in three consecutive games fell well short. The Bucs defense ranks fourth in the NFL against the rush. Against the Browns last week, Williams rushed for 179 yards.
  • As last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Ricky Williams gets to vote in this year's contest. He plans to give Texas QB Major Applewhite his vote.

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