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Bucs down Browns, end road drought

CLEVELAND (Dec. 24, 2006) -- Jon Gruden joked about the day he caught a large perch while fishing on Lake Erie.

On this day, he created another memory near its shores.

Derrick Brooks returned one of Tampa Bay's four interceptions 21 yards for a touchdown and the Buccaneers won their first road game in more than a year, 22-7 against the dreadful Cleveland Browns.

The Buccaneers (4-11) had lost eight straight outside Florida since winning at Carolina on Dec. 11 last season. But they had little trouble with the Browns (4-11), who lost their third straight, managed only 187 yards of offense, saw a field goal get blocked and were taunted by their own fans.

"We came here in a tough situation -- no road wins," quarterback Tim Rattay said. "But the food will taste a little better on Christmas. This was a good-feeling win."

Cleveland, which finished the season 2-6 at home, avoided being shut out for the second successive year on Dec. 24 when cornerback Daven Holly returned a fumble 40 yards for a TD with 11:33 left.

By then, the Bucs had spoiled the Browns' holiday with their most lopsided victory this season.

Michael Pittman, filling in for injured starter Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, had an 11-yard touchdown run and 86 yards, and Jermaine Phillips had two of Tampa Bay's four picks against Derek Anderson.

The victory was the 100th in the regular season for Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer, who purchased the club in 1985.

"It's a great feeling to get a win on the road," Gruden said. "It's tough to win in this league."

With Tampa Bay leading 12-0 early in the fourth quarter, Brooks stepped in front of Braylon Edwards to swipe Anderson's pass and returned it for the linebacker's eighth career TD.

"I just the read the quarterback," Brooks said. "We were in a blitz, so I knew he was going to rush it. I just got a good jump on it. Once I caught it, all I had to do was race it home."

On Cleveland's next possession, Phillip Buchanon intercepted Anderson, drawing boos from humiliated Browns fans, some of whom wore paper bags over their heads.

Rattay, making his first start this season, finished 16-for-26 for 212 yards. Matt Bryant kicked field goals of 23, 24 and 37 yards for the Bucs, the NFC's lowest-scoring team.

Anderson, filling in for the third consecutive week for injured starter Charlie Frye, completed nearly as many passes to Tampa Bay's defense as he did to his receivers, who dropped several balls.

Anderson was 10-for-27 for 123 yards. He separated his right shoulder in the fourth quarter when he got sacked and Chris Hovan landed on him. Ken Dorsey came in and was sacked on his first play.

"I made some stupid mistakes," Anderson said. "It's frustrating. We felt good going in, but we never got it going."

One of Cleveland's only positives was running back Reuben Droughns, who gained 92 yards on 19 carries.

Last week, Rattay replaced rookie Bruce Gradkowski against Chicago and rallied the Buccaneers to 28 points in the final 16 minutes of regulation. He didn't have to be nearly as effective this time; the Browns couldn't mount much of a threat and seemed to be a divided team.

Edwards, whose attitude and behavior has irked coach Romeo Crennel, didn't start for undisclosed reasons and finished with two catches for 7 yards. He was fined earlier this season when he was late for a team meeting after renting a helicopter and flying to Columbus to watch his alma mater Michigan play Ohio State.

He didn't enter the game until the 6:10 of the second quarter, and promptly dropped a pass over the middle. During the first half, TV cameras also showed Crennel exchanging words with tight end Kellen Winslow on the sideline.

"He was just trying to encourage me," Winslow said. "He's frustrated. We're frustrated."

Crennel refused to divulge his reason for benching Edwards. The team's flagship radio station reported Edwards missed a team meeting.

"That was a coach's decision, and that is where I'm leaving it," Crennel said.

Edwards refused to comment following the game.


The Buccaneers wouldn't confirm reports that QB Chris Simms has agreed to a two-year contract. Simms, eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, ruptured his spleen Sept. 24 against Carolina and was lost for the year. ... Browns DE Kamerion Wimbley's two sacks gave him 10, the most by a Cleveland rookie. ... Browns CB Gary Baxter, who has vowed to play again after tearing both patellar tendons, gingerly walked the sideline on crutches before the game then joined his teammates in the locker room.

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