Start singing the praises of Tampa Bay's 2005 draft class.
Rookies Alex Smith and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams combined to score all three of Tampa Bay's offensive touchdowns in the Buccaneers' 24-13 upset win in the 2005 season opener over a Minnesota team that several pundits have picked to go deep into the playoffs this year.
Smith, a tight end who was the Bucs' third-round draft pick, hauled in two second quarter touchdown passes from quarterback Brian Griese to help the visiting Bucs build a 17-7 halftime lead. Williams, the team's first-round selection this past April, salted away Tampa Bay's victory in dramatic fashion with a 71-yard touchdown run behind the block of left guard Dan Buenning, the Bucs' fourth-round draft pick, on third-and-1 with 1:23 remaining.
With the Bucs clinging to a 17-13 lead late in the fourth quarter, Williams surged ahead for nine yards on his first two carries of Tampa Bay's drive, setting up a critical third-and-1. For the third straight play, Cadillac took the handoff from Griese and saw an opening behind Buenning, who blasted safety Corey Chavous out of the hole, and stepped on the gas pedal. The rookie rusher, who had 148 yards on 27 carries in his NFL debut, quickly shifted into fifth gear, outraced linebacker Napoleon Harris and got a great block from receiver Michael Clayton, who fended off cornerback Fred Smoot, en route to the end zone.
A year ago, the Buccaneers would have found a way to lose this game, whether it be allowing the Vikings to get the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining, or by fumbling away a chance to run out the clock. But this is a new year, and a new, focused Tampa Bay team - one that has Williams replacing Michael Pittman as the Bucs' fourth quarter closer.
Williams got that scoring opportunity thanks to a Brian Kelly interception - his second of the day - at the Tampa Bay 6, which halted a 78-yard, seven-play Minnesota drive with less than two minutes left in the game. Another interception by outside linebacker Derrick Brooks with 1:11 remaining in regulation sealed the Bucs' win and became the fifth turnover generated by a dominant Tampa Bay defense.
Without superstar receiver Randy Moss, Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper had a difficult time finding open receivers and struggled mightily against Tampa Bay by throwing three picks, getting sacked twice and losing two fumbles.
While Culpepper threw two second half touchdown passes to tight end Jermaine Wiggins, both were wiped out by penalties. Had the Vikings not been forced to settle for two field goals instead of those touchdowns, the outcome of this game could have been much different, especially given the fact that the Bucs offense had stalled in the second half prior to Williams' touchdown run.
Tampa Bay racked up 13 penalties for 99 yards in the season opener and those infractions stifled the team's progress on offense and gave Minnesota's offense new life on several occasions in the second half.
But credit head coach Jon Gruden for having the confidence in his young offensive line, which featured first-year starters in right guard Sean Mahan, left tackle Anthony Davis and Buenning, who started in place of the injured Matt Stinchcomb, and sticking with the rushing attack. Gruden abandoned the running game too early too many times last year, but was rewarded for his play calling today as it produced 146 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per rush.
Prior to 80 rushing yards Williams picked up on Tampa Bay's last scoring drive, Cadillac had been held in check with just 68 yards on 24 carries (2.8 avg.). However, Williams proved to be enough of a threat, evidenced by a slashing 19-yard run to the outside in the second quarter, that it kept Minnesota's defense honest throughout the game
A credible ground, which Tampa Bay didn't have in 2004 when it ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing, allowed Griese to be effective in completing 18-of-29 passes for 213 yards. Wide receiver Joey Galloway caught a game-high five passes for 97 yards while Clayton added 57 yards on four receptions. But it was Smith who came up big in his rookie debut with four catches for 34 yards, including touchdown catches that spanned 23 and 2 yards.
Minnesota got on the scoreboard first when safety Darren Sharper, a free agent import from Green Bay this offseason, stepped in front of Galloway and picked off Griese's pass, returning it 88 yards for a touchdown with 2:44 left in the first quarter to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead. Despite the turnover, Gruden didn't waver in his confidence in Griese, who threw three interceptions that went for touchdowns last season.
When Bucs left defensive end Dewayne White recovered a Culpepper fumble and returned it 18 yards down to the Minnesota 23, Tampa Bay was able to tie the score on the first play of the second quarter when Griese found Smith in one-on-one coverage with Minnesota linebacker Rod Davis down the seam and floated a perfect pass good for a 23-yard touchdown. With 14:55 remaining in the second quarter, the score was tied 7-7.
The Buccaneers took the lead late in the second quarter on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that took 6:25 off the clock and culminated on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Griese to Smith on third-and-goal. Griese rolled left to escape pressure and found Smith alone in the middle of the end zone for the score. Tampa Bay's drive benefited from three big plays - a 19-yard run by Williams, a 41-yard catch-and-run by Clayton on third-and-9 and an 11-yard reception by Galloway on third-and-10.
Galloway came up big on third down on Tampa Bay's next possession with a 36-yard catch down to the Vikings 29. Five plays later, new Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant gave the Bucs a 17-7 lead with 17 seconds left before halftime. The Bucs dominated the first half on both sides of the ball, outgaining Minnesota 229 yards to 66, and winning the time of advantage 19:32 to 10:28 thanks to running a whopping 41 plays on offense. This came after Tampa Bay picked up just one first down on its first three possessions of the game.
Minnesota finally got on the scoreboard again late in third quarter. On third-and-9 from the Tampa Bay 35, Culpepper launched a pass for Wiggins, who had worked himself open in between cornerback Juran Bolden and safety Dexter Jackson at the 4-yard line to haul in the reception. Wiggins landed at the 4 and rolled into the end zone for an apparent touchdown, but a questionable offensive pass interference call on Wiggins negated the score. Two plays later, Minnesota had to settle for a 53-yard field goal by Paul Edinger with 3:52 left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay's tackling broke down on Minnesota's next scoring drive, which culminated in a 22-yard field goal with 6:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. Once again, Wiggins found the end zone, only to have that touchdown called back due to a penalty. Tampa Bay's defense rose to the occasion on third down and forced a field goal to preserve a 17-13 lead. The Vikings converted two third downs on the 10-play, scoring drive 41-yard drive.
The Buccaneers pass coverage collapsed on Minnesota's drive that began at its 10-yard line with 4:11 left in regulation. A pass interference call on Ronde Barber gave the Vikings 14 yards and a first down. Culpepper found receiver Nate Burleson for a 20-yard gain on the next play.
Tampa Bay had a chance to create a turnover when Shelton Quarles forced a fumble with a hit on Minnesota running back Moe Williams at the Minnesota 46, but Burleson recovered for the Vikings.
On the next play, Kelly was flagged for defensive holding, which negated an Ellis Wyms sack and gave Minnesota another first down as it crossed midfield. After completions to Wiggins for 11 yards and Burleson for 15 yards, Culpepper hit fullback Jim Kleinsasser for an 11-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 12. A big hit by safety Jermaine Phillips on Kleinsasser jarred the ball loose, but instead of falling on the ball, Brooks appeared to try to pick it up and instead lost it to Williams, who recovered the loose ball.
However, on the next play, Kelly would end the threat of Minnesota scoring a go-ahead touchdown by picking off a pass that bounced off the fingertips of Williams at the Tampa Bay 6. Brooks would atone for his mistake on the next defensive series by picking off Culpepper.
Thanks to a stalwart defense that held Minnesota to just six points and huge contributions from three key members of its rookie class, Tampa Bay is 1-0 heading into its home opener next week against 1-0 Buffalo at Raymond James Stadium.
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