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TAMPA BAY 27, NEW ORLEANS 13

Buccaneers Clinch; Saints at Road's End

January 02, 2006|From the Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — Even as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were slipping into caps commemorating their first NFC South crown in three years, linebacker Derrick Brooks was issuing a stern message to his teammates.

"It's just the first leg of the championship -- division, conference and Super Bowl," the nine-time Pro Bowl selection said Sunday after the Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints, 27-13, to guarantee themselves a home playoff game. "As good as this feels, we're looking to feel even better next week."

Tampa Bay (11-5) will play host to Washington on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

For the Saints, who didn't go down without a fight, the defeat meant the No. 2 pick in this year's NFL draft and a conclusion to a tumultuous season in which Hurricane Katrina forced them to leave New Orleans for San Antonio.

"This is not a 3-13 football team. They've been through a lot," said New Orleans Coach Jim Haslett, whose team essentially played all 16 games on the road. "I'm not happy with our record. But if you could have seen the circumstances, the things they went through, you'd be proud of this team."

Haslett expressed mixed emotions about his uncertain future as coach, saying he feels "like part of the community and the players" but adding, "To be honest with you, I'm ready for whatever happens." He expects to meet with General Manager Mickey Loomis today.

"Part of me says maybe it's time for a change because I think, as any coach nowadays, you can get stuck somewhere too long," Haslett said.

Tampa Bay was assured a playoff berth when the New York Giants beat the Oakland Raiders on Saturday but needed to beat the Saints to finish a worst-to-first division turnaround that few envisioned.

The Buccaneers lost 20 of 32 games and missed the playoffs the last two seasons, the first team in history to win the Super Bowl and then post losing records the next two years.

Joey Galloway, who has recovered from 2004 injuries to become a big part of Tampa Bay's transformation with 83 receptions for 1,287 yards, scored Sunday on touchdown receptions of seven and four yards. Michael Pittman set up a field goal with a 64-yard run in his only carry.

New Orleans' Todd Bouman threw for 265 yards and a touchdown and John Carney kicked two field goals. But Tampa Bay's Dewayne White sacked Bouman, forcing a fumble that White picked up and returned 35 yards to make it 27-13.

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