Swing Points Week 12 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Baltimore Ravens

At this point in the season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 7-3, and coming off a dominant win over the 49ers. That was the first game in two years where the defense had looked stellar in all phases of the game, although the opposition certainly had something to do with that. But the Bucs now had to face a very good team in the Baltimore Ravens. They still had a dominant defense, as they always do, and with Joe Flacco one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL was under center for Baltimore. The Bucs had failed to beat a good team so far, but they were getting another chance to prove they were really elite.

The Bucs didn't get off to a fast start, as was traditional, but at least they didn't give up any points in the first quarter. The Bucs and Ravens traded drives, although the Ravens' drives started out near midfield while the Bucs were pinned back at their own goalline. The stalemate wouldn't last long in the second quarter, though, as Billy Cundiff quickly put the Ravens ahead after a Gerald McCoy sack prevented the Ravens from scoring a touchdown. 

From there, the Bucs defense tightened up a little and even intercepted Joe Flacco on the next Baltimore drive. Talib returned the ball to the Baltimore 36-yard line to give the Bucs some good field position. Unfortunately, rookie standout Cody Grimm broke his leg on the interception return. This meant that Sabby Piscitelli was returning to the field of play, and everyone Bucs fan was scared of what would happen next. First, though, the Bucs drove down to the 4-yard line and looked to score from there, but Freeman's two endzone passes were tipped away by Ed Reed, while Blount couldn't get past the line of scrimmage. A 22-yard field goal tied the score, and it was now Ravens ball. 

Those Ravens wasted no time going after the weakest part of the Bucs' defense: Sabby Piscitelli. The disastrously bad but somehow experienced safety took all of 4 plays to screw up royally. At the snap of the ball, Sabby decided to cover the left flat, an area already being covered by Ronde Barber. Todd Heap ran by both of them and caught a ball behind the defense, where no one had a chance of catching up to them. It was clear that someone was supposed to be covering that deep half of the field, and only one player was supposed to be covering the flat to that side of the field. Yet somehow Ronde Barber and Sabby Piscitelli were covering the same space, while no one was covering the deep half. The Bucs maintained that it was a coaching mistake and not Sabby's fault, but I'm not buying. Which is more likely: that a very consistent and reliable 14-year veteran messed up his assignments, or that a young player who is known for his spectacular gaffes neglected to do his job? Yeah, that's easy. 

This was also the turning point in the game. Up to that moment the teams were more or less equal, neither getting much done on the scoring front, but the Bucs had been more productive in terms of getting close to the goalline. But in one play, the Ravens traveled 65 yards for a touchdown and blew this game wide open. The Bucs were forced to punt on their next drive despite a good kickoff return, and an extremely poor punt gave the Ravens the ball at midfield. On a crucial 3rd-and-3, Flacco dropped back to pass and threw the ball to T.J. Housmandzadeh down the sideline who was covered by Myron Lewis. The rookie was in perfect position to defense the play and Houshmandzadeh failed to catch the ball as he tried to jump over Myron Lewis. For some reason, the referees called a good play pass interference, and gave the Ravens the ball near the goalline. Raheem Morris was incensed about the call, and I still don't see how this is pass interference: it looks like a clean play to me. Still, Raheem spent more time arguing with the refs than worrying about the next play, and the Bucs gave up an easy touchdown to Derrick Mason. 

The Bucs headed into the locker room being down 17-3 to an excellent Ravens team with a stifling defense that had stopped them all day. While the game wasn't actually over at that point, it was pretty close to being over. The Bucs couldn't get a drive going throughout the third quarter, but the Bucs defense at least held strong to give them a chance of winning. In the end it didn't matter, though. The BUcs managed to score one late touchdown, but the Ravens simply ran out the clock, winning the game comfortably. 

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