Tampa Bay started three rookies on offense against Minnesota in the 2005 season opener and all three players - running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, tight end Alex Smith and left guard Dan Buenning - came up big in the Buccaneers' 24-13 win over the Vikings. Williams led all rushers with 148 yards on 27 carries, including a dramatic 71-yard touchdown jaunt on third-and-1 at the Bucs' 29-yard line as Tampa Bay was trying to run out the clock. Williams, whose first NFL carry went for four yards, was the only running back to gain any yardage for the Buccaneers on Sunday, as Mike Alstott's lone carry went for no gain.
Buenning, who was starting in place of Matt Stinchcomb, helped pave the way for Williams' scoring run with a crushing block of Minnesota safety Corey Chavous. Buenning played well in his rookie debut, holding up in pass protection and being a force on the perimeter running game with some solid blocking.
Smith helped the Bucs surge past the Vikings in the second quarter with two touchdown catches to make the score 14-7 in Tampa Bay's favor. Smith, who finished the game with four catches for 34 yards, and Williams combined for all of the Buccaneers' touchdowns against the Vikings.
Bucs rookie middle linebacker Barrett Ruud was activated for his first NFL game and played on special teams.
Aside from holding Minnesota without an offensive touchdown and limiting the Vikings running game to just 26 yards on 16 carries (1.6 avg.), Tampa Bay's defense ruled the day by forcing five turnovers. Focusing on getting the ball back for the offense was a strong theme during the offseason for the Bucs defense. Tampa Bay forced 12 turnovers (six interceptions and six fumble recoveries) in four preseason games and continued its thievery in the 2005 season opener at Minnesota.
Cornerback Brian Kelly started off the year with a bang due to two key interceptions inside Tampa Bay's 10-yard line. Linebacker Derrick Brooks added another INT to make Daunte Culpepper's outing against Tampa Bay a statistical nightmare. Besides throwing three picks, Culpepper also lost two fumbles and was sacked once each by right defensive end Simeon Rice and under tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland. Defensive tackle Ellis Wyms also recorded a sack, but it was negated due to a holding penalty on Kelly.
Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, who led Tampa Bay in tackles with seven solo stops, forced a fumble, as did strong safety Jermaine Phillips, although neither loose ball was recovered by the Bucs. New nose tackle Chris Hovan and right defensive end Dewayne White recovered fumbles for Tampa Bay.
A TALE OF TWO HALVES ON OFFENSE
After rolling up 229 yards and 17 points in the first half, Tampa Bay had to punt on its first four second half possessions after gaining a paltry total of 14 yards of offense on those four drives. Tampa Bay gained only 116 yards in the second half, with 71 of those coming on Williams' 71-yard touchdown run.
The Bucs converted 6-of-11 third downs in the first half (55 percent), but could only manage to convert 2-of-6 third downs (33 percent) in the second half. The good news for Tampa Bay is that its offense did not commit a turnover in the second half after quarterback Brian Griese threw two interceptions in the first half.
JONESING FOR SOME RETURN YARDAGE
Tampa Bay's punt return game was on life support heading into the 2005 season. Coming off a campaign in 2004 in which the team averaged just 6.5 yards per punt return, the Bucs were even worse in the preseason, averaging just 1.9 yards on punt returns.
Mark Jones, one of Tampa Bay's seventh-round draft picks from 2004, was re-signed on Wednesday after being released from the New York Giants to help improve the Bucs' return game. While Jones' longest return was only a 14-yarder, his 9-yard average on four returns made Tampa Bay's punt return unit respectable.
After tying a franchise record for penalties last year with 119, Tampa Bay got off to an ominous start in Minnesota with 13 infractions for 99 yards. While several of those penalties were costly, it was the Vikings that were hurt the most by the yellow flags. Two Minnesota penalties in the second half negated touchdown catches by tight end Jermaine Wiggins.
TAMPA BAY INACTIVES
The inactive players for Buccaneers on Sunday were safety Donte Nicholson, fullback Rick Razzano, right tackle Chris Colmer, nose tackle Jon Bradley, receivers Paris Warren and J.R. Russell and Stinchcomb.
BUCS INJURY UPDATE
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden reported no serious injuries after the game at Minnesota. Stinchcomb did not dress against the Vikings due to a lower back strain he has been battling since training camp.
ENEMY SNEAK PEEK: BUFFALO
The Buffalo Bills - Tampa Bay's opponent next week at Raymond James Stadium - defeated the Houston Texans 22-7 on Sunday thanks to the able foot of kicker Rian Lindell, who made five field goals in the victory. Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman was 17-of-28 for 170 yards and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jason Peters.
Bills running back Willis McGahee eclipsed the century mark with 117 yards on 22 carries, including a 17-yarder, while Losman added 31 yards on six scrambles. Wide receiver Lee Evans led the aerial attack with three catches for 68 yards, including a 42-yarder, while Eric Moulds added 40 yards on four catches. The downside to Buffalo's offensive production on Sunday came on third downs as the Bills converted just 3-of-14 times (21 percent).
The Bills outgained the Texans 316 yards to 120 thanks to a stout effort from Buffalo's defense. Houston ran for just 95 yards on 23 carries, but 40 of those yards - and the Texans' lone touchdown - came from Carr's scrambling ability. As a passer, Carr was horrible, completing just 9-of-21 passes for 70 yards. His three interceptions factored heavily into his 12.1 QB rating against the Bills. Buffalo safeties Lawyer Milloy and Troy Vincent were the culprits for Carr's INTs.
The Bills recorded five sacks and forced two fumbles against the Texans with defensive end Aaron Schobel leading the way with two sacks. Linebacker Takeo Spikes, defensive end Chad Kelsay and defensive back Jabari Greer each sacked Carr once. Spikes and Kelsay each forced one fumble.
In other future opponent news, Green Bay star wide receiver Javon Walker injured his right knee in the Packers' 17-3 loss at Detroit on Sunday. The Bucs will travel to Green Bay to play the Packers in two weeks on September 25.
Free safety Will Allen led Tampa Bay with three special teams tackles. Linebackers Marquis Cooper and Ryan Nece each had two special teams stops. ... Brian Griese completed 18-of-29 passes for 213 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, the first of which was returned 88 yards for a touchdown by Vikings safety Darren Sharper. ... Griese set a new Buccaneers record by throwing a touchdown pass in 12 straight games dating back to last year. ... Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway led all receivers with five catches for 97 yards. ... New tight end Anthony Becht made his first catch as a Buccaneer, hauling in a 7-yard pass. The same goes for receiver Ike Hilliard, who caught his first pass for four yards in a Bucs uniform. ... New Bucs kicker Matt Bryant was perfect on his lone field goal attempt, a 41-yarder in the second quarter. ... Tampa Bay's leading rusher last year, Michael Pittman, did not get any carries and dropped the only pass thrown his way. ... With the 24-13 win at Minnesota, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden is 2-2 in season openers with the Buccaneers. Gruden is also 3-0 lifetime as a head coach against Minnesota.
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