Throughout their 4-0 start to the 2005 season, the Buccaneers have been getting away with committing a ton of penalties and quarterback Brian Griese throwing interceptions. As the saying goes; eventually, dirty living catches up with you.
One day, Tampa Bay's luck would run out.
It turns out Sunday was that day as another costly Griese interception and a season-high 12 penalties for 87 yards did just enough damage to contribute to Tampa Bay's first loss of the season, a 14-12 defeat at the hands of the New York Jets.
With the Bucs leading 6-0 in the second half, Jets cornerback Ty Law stepped in front of an errant Griese pass and raced 43 yards with the interception down to the Tampa Bay 8-yard line. Two plays later, Curtis Martin would score from two yards out to give the Jets a 7-6 lead with 7:32 remaining before halftime.
But considering how well Tampa Bay's defense played in holding the Jets to just 14 points and 212 yards while containing Martin to just 59 yards on 23 carries, Griese's interception was a huge factor because it set up New York inside the Bucs' 10-yard line for an easy score.
Griese came under fire from critics last week after tossing three interceptions against Detroit in Tampa Bay's narrow, 17-13 victory. Over the last two games, the Bucs' starting signal caller has thrown four interceptions - and that's not including three additional picks that were nullified due to defensive penalties. Two of those negated interceptions came on Sunday against the Jets.
But Griese wasn't the only Buccaneer who was hurting the team. Several others contributed by racking up 12 penalties at New York to push Tampa Bay's infraction totals this season to an embarrassing 53 penalties for 443 yards. The undisciplined Bucs are averaging just over 10 penalties for 88 yards per game, and are on pace to draw 169 penalties for 1,417 yards that would shatter franchise records.
The Bucs' penalties extended the Jets' two scoring drives, halted several of Tampa Bay's drives on offense and the infractions on special teams put the offense in poor starting field position. Without the services of the team's leading rusher, rookie Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who was inactive and nursing a foot sprain, the Bucs offense was in trouble to begin with - the penalties notwithstanding. Michael Pittman, Earnest Graham and Mike Alstott combined for just 73 yards rushing on 23 carries (3.3 avg.) in Williams' absence and couldn't match the big-play potential that Tampa Bay's first-round pick possesses.
Yet even with Griese's pick, the penalties and the injury to Williams, Tampa Bay was still in position to win the game in the fourth quarter. With New York ahead 14-9 with 4:50 remaining in regulation, the Bucs faced a third-and-10 at the Jets' 18-yard line. But a pass to Ike Hilliard only netted six yards. Instead of going for the first down and continuing on for a possible touchdown, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden opted for a 30-yard Matt Bryant field goal that closed the gap to 14-12 with 4:00 left in the game.
Armed with two timeouts plus the two-minute warning and the league's number one defense, Gruden expected Tampa Bay to force New York to punt after a three-and-out series, which would give Bryant - who was 4-of-4 against the Jets, accounted for all of the Bucs' points on Sunday, and is making 88.8 percent of his field goal attempts this season - the opportunity to kick the potential game-winning field goal.
But 42-year old Vinny Testaverde, who became the fourth-oldest quarterback to start an NFL game, thwarted those plans when he connected with wide receiver Laveranues Coles for 17 yards on third-and-4 from the Jets' 31 with 2:16 left in the fourth quarter. That gave New York a fresh set of downs and made the Bucs burn their final timeout on the next play prior to the two-minute warning.
Tampa Bay's defense eventually forced the Jets to punt, but the Bucs got the ball back at their 12-yard line with just one minute left. A false start penalty on left tackle Anthony Davis on the first play backed the Bucs up five more yards to the Tampa Bay 7. Griese did hit rookie tight end Alex Smith with a pass for 17 yards, and Hilliard and Michael Pittman for 8-yard gains, but his 24-yard pass to Joey Galloway, who led the Bucs with 87 yards receiving on five catches, was thrown to the middle of the field and time expired before Tampa Bay could get off another play from the Jets' 34-yard line.
After going three-and-out on its opening position, Tampa Bay was forced to punt the ball to New York, but Jets return man Jericho Cotchery only took one step with the ball before Smith forced him to fumble. Another rookie, linebacker Barrett Ruud, recovered the loose ball for Tampa Bay at the New York 44.
After Pittman lost one yard on two carries on the Bucs' intial drive, Alstott was called upon for two straight carries that produced a first down. Seven plays later, Tampa Bay's drive stalled and Bryant gave the Bucs a 3-0 lead with 8:09 left in the first quarter with a 35-yard field goal.
On his first possession with the Jets, Testaverde, who was signed this week with starter Chad Pennington out for the year and Brooks Bollinger ineffective at the helm last week, marched New York 41 yards down the field with passes of 31 and seven yards to Coles. But New York couldn't capitalize on the drive and saw rookie kicker Mike Nugent miss a 40-yard field goal wide right.
With 1:27 left in the first quarter, Griese was hit by blitzing safety Kerry Rhodes as he launched a pass intended for Galloway. The pass was intercepted by defensive back David Barrett, but that pick was negated due to an illegal contact penalty on Law. Griese was under pressure all day from the aggressive Jets defense and was sacked three times in the first quarter, including twice by defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, who gave guards Dan Buenning and Sean Mahan a fit all day.
But Griese and the Bucs continued marching, and converted a key first down on fourth-and-1 when Graham picked up the necessary yardage.
Tampa Bay was forced to kick a field goal seven plays later after a third down pass intended for Smith at the Jets' 6-yard line was broken up by safety Eric Coleman. Bryant's 36-yard field goal gave the Bucs a 6-0 lead with 11:21 remaining in the second quarter.
Although Griese's first interception was negated due to a penalty, his second one wasn't. Law picked off Griese midway through the second quarter and returned the ball 43 yards down to the Bucs' 8-yard line. Only a Kenyatta Walker tackle - his third in as many weeks following Griese interceptions - prevented a touchdown. However, the Jets would not be denied as Martin would score from two yards out to give New York a 7-6 lead with 7:32 left in the first half.
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber flirted with being ejected from the game when he scuffled with Jets center Kevin Mawae on the play prior to Martin's touchdown run. When trying to break Mawae's clench, Barber went to strike him but accidentally hit umpire Butch Hannah in the face instead. Luckily, Barber wasn't ejected, but he was charged with a personal foul penalty.
On the Bucs' final drive prior to halftime, Griese marched Tampa Bay into field goal position. But for the second time in this contest, Griese had an interception overturned by a defensive penalty. Once again, Griese was picked off by Law, but a pass interference call on defensive back Oliver Celestin negated the turnover.
Griese was 8-of-11 for 55 yards with Pittman, Smith, Hilliard and Galloway as his receivers on the drive. He did throw a pass intended for the injured Michael Clayton - the only pass thrown his way in the game - but it was out of bounds. For the first time in his pro career, Clayton was held without a catch.
At the end of the Bucs' 13-play, 65-yard drive, Bryant's 43-yard field goal gave Tampa Bay a 10-9 lead with five seconds left before halftime.
While Tampa Bay's defense did a good job of holding Testaverde in check in the first half (2-of-5 passing for 36 yards), the veteran signal caller heated up in the second half, completing 11-of-14 passing for 127 yards and leading the Jets on a touchdown drive. The 10-play, 59-yard drive was highlighted by a 16-yard pass to tight end Doug Jolley who eluded linebacker Derrick Brooks and picked up a first down on third-and-1. Although the Jets converted just 3-of-10 third downs (30 percent), they were far better than the Bucs, who converted only 2-of-14 third down attempts (14 percent) in the game.
Three plays later, Martin rushed for five yards, but a late hit personal foul penalty on safety Will Allen gave the Jets a first-and-goal at the Bucs' 9-yard line. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Martin leaped over Brooks for the touchdown to give New York a 14-9 lead with 9:05 left in the third quarter.
After losing the time of possession battle in the first half, the Jets played keep away with a ball control attack in the second half, and even weathered another missed field goal by Nugent. However, it was only after a Testaverde interception by Ronde Barber, that the Bucs were able to sustain a viable scoring drive midway through the fourth quarter. The Bucs marched 74 yards on 12 plays, and Bryant's 30-yard field goal closed the margin to 14-12 with 4:05 remaining in regulation, setting up the Bucs' late rally that fell short.
The 4-1 Buccaneers still hold a one-game lead in the NFC South division over 3-2 Atlanta, which lost to New England on Sunday, and 3-2 Carolina, which prevailed against Arizona later in the afternoon. Tampa Bay hosts Miami (2-2) next Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
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