That was last year's debacle in the desert - a dreadful 12-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2004 season finale that gave the Bucs a 5-11 record. But you could have sworn that Simms performance was from Sunday in San Francisco as his outing in Tampa Bay's 15-10 loss to the 49ers almost mirrored his efforts from his start against the Cardinals.
Simms, in his first start of the 2005 season for the injured Brian Griese, showed virtually no improvement from his last start a year ago while completing 21-of-34 passes for 264 yards against the 49ers, with many of those incompletions being short-hoppers that fell at his receivers' feet - a few of them coming on key third down situations. The Bucs were a pathetic 3-of-14 (21 percent) on third downs against the 49ers, which came into the game with the NFL's 32nd-ranked defense.
Simms' lone bright spot against San Francisco was a short pass thrown to Joey Galloway, that was turned it into a 78-yard touchdown and cut into the 49ers' 12-10 lead with 10:33 remaining in the game. That play was eerily similar to Simms' connection with Michael Clayton for 75 yards last year at Arizona. Despite constant double teaming, Galloway finished with eight catches for 149 yards, and accounted for almost all of Tampa Bay's 208 total yards of offense.
It wasn't just Simms who was having some scary flashbacks to the loss to Arizona, either. The Bucs offensive line was downright frightful against the 49ers - just as it was against the Cardinals - as it couldn't protect Simms for very long and couldn't open up any holes for the running game.
It seemed as if Tampa Bay's defense got into the Halloween mood a day early and dressed up as the same unit that didn't do enough to beat the Cardinals last year. The Bucs allowed Arizona to control the tempo and rush for 100 yards, and did the same thing on Sunday by surrendering a season-high 158 yards to the 49ers. Kevan Barlow became the first running back to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark this season against the league's top-rated run defense.
The same elements from that fearful day in Arizona haunted the Bucs defense against San Francisco. The Bucs allowed only five field goals and didn't record a sack in both contests, and came up woefully short in the turnover department. Against the 49ers, Tampa Bay didn't even record a turnover despite facing some inferior quarterbacks in Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett.
The end result of all the gory details was that a sixth win was not achieved - neither last year nor this year - as the Buccaneers fell to 5-2 this season, and 0-5 in regular season games on the West Coast under Jon Gruden. The loss creates a three-way tie for first place in the NFC South with Atlanta and Carolina, whom Tampa Bay hosts next Sunday.
While the Buccaneers were excited about having rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams back from a foot injury against San Francisco, the 49ers committed to stopping the run and rendered Williams ineffective with just 20 yards on 13 carries (1.5 avg.). The fact that Williams' longest run of the day was a 15-yarder in the first half means that he gained just five yards on 12 other carries.
While Williams returned to the starting lineup against San Francisco, the Bucs were without the services of defensive end Simeon Rice, who was deactivated and sent home for violating an undisclosed violation of team policy. Media reports prior to kickoff suggested that Rice missed a mandatory meeting once the team landed in San Francisco, although general manager Bruce Allen didn't get into specifics.
"We have club policies that we don't disclose different things, but we felt it was the right thing to do based on our policies," said Allen. "We're just going to deal with this, fight through this game and see where it goes from there. I had an understanding with Simeon this morning that we were on the same page and we're just going to go from there.
"He said he wanted to play and help the team, but we felt this was the best thing for the team."
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden indicated that Rice's disciplinary action will last just one game, and said that his absence didn't have any impact in Sunday's loss to the 49ers.
"It was a difficult decision," Gruden said. "It's a team matter, and I don't get into those things personally. We expect him to be back with us and ready to go next week. I don't think that it had any impact on the outcome. You have to score points to win football games.
"Hopefully Simeon comes back ready to roll, and he learns from this. We have rules that we are going to set and stand by."
After a scoreless first quarter, the 49ers got on the scoreboard first thanks to a 45-yard field goal by Joe Nedney with 6:00 left in the second quarter. San Francisco got great field position at the Tampa Bay 48 thanks to a stout effort from its defense. A late hit personal foul penalty on Tampa Bay defensive lineman Ellis Wyms added 15 yards on to Frank Gore's 1-yard run to move the ball down to the Bucs' 32. After failing to pick up a first down over the next three plays, San Francisco jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Nedney's kick.
Tampa Bay would answer on its next possession, but a holding penalty on Jameel Cook on Tampa Bay's first kick return opportunity of the game pushed the Buccaneers back to their 10-yard line. After a 4-yard gain by Williams on the first play of the series, 49ers nose tackle Anthony Adams was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty that gave Tampa Bay a first down at their 29-yard line. A 19-yard completion to Galloway, which was the 500th catch of his career, was followed by a 24-yard pass to rookie tight end Alex Smith that set the Bucs up at the San Francisco 28-yard line. A completion to Mike Alstott picked up nine yards down to the 49ers 19. A 1-yard quarterback sneak by Simms picked up a first down on second-and-1.
But the 18-yard line was as far as Tampa Bay would progress. A 7-yard completion to Ike Hilliard was negated by his own offsides penalty. After an incompletion, Simms was sacked for a 12-yard loss by Derrick Johnson, setting up a third-and-27 situation. After Clayton gained only six yards on the next play, the Bucs tied the score at 3-3 on a Matt Bryant 47-yard field goal with 24 seconds left.
But Tampa Bay's sloppy play allowed the 49ers to take a 6-3 lead at halftime. Bryant's squib kick down to the San Francisco 30 came with just 11 seconds left in the first half, and Maurice Hicks' 12-yard return set up a first-and-10 at the 49ers' 42-yard line. On what figured to be the last play of the first half, Barlow took Dorsey's handoff and rushed outside to the left for a 29-yard gain. San Francisco right tackle Kwame Harris managed to call a timeout with two seconds left, allowing Nedney to nail a 47-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to put the 49ers up by three points at halftime.
After Simms came close to throwing an interception to safety Ben Emanuel in the third quarter, 49ers cornerback Shawntae Spencer jumped in front of Clayton on an out route and picked off the Bucs' young quarterback at the Tampa Bay 49-yard line two plays later. The ball was advanced to the Bucs' 27, but Tampa Bay's defense stiffened and forced San Francisco to settle for a field goal. With 6:16 left in the third quarter, Nedney's 41-yard attempt was good and allowed the 49ers to take a 9-3 lead.
Linebacker Brandon Moore intercepted a Simms pass in the third quarter after his throw inexplicably caromed off the forehead of umpire Darrell Jenkins. That gave the 49ers possession at the Tampa Bay 35-yard line. But after gaining just seven yards on three plays, Nedney was forced to kick a 46-yard field goal to give San Francisco a 12-3 lead with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
The Bucs tried to answer on their next series, but after traveling 49 yards in 10 plays, Bryant's 51-yard field goal attempt came up short. Andre Carter's 8-yard sack of Simms just two plays prior to Bryant's attempt proved to be costly for Tampa Bay.
After holding the 49ers offense to a three-and-out, the Tampa Bay offense finally came to life on its next possession. On first-and-10 from their 22-yard line, Simms threw a short pass to Galloway, who eluded cornerback Bruce Thornton and outraced safety Mike Adams to the end zone for a 78-yard touchdown to pull the Bucs to within 12-10 with 10:33 left in regulation. Galloway received a great downfield block from Clayton, who shielded him away from Spencer near the 15-yard line.
But even after a three-and-out by its defense on the next series in the fourth quarter, which featured Pickett at quarterback for the injured Dorsey, Tampa Bay couldn't sustain the momentum after its offense went three-and-out. San Francisco got the ball back with 6:58 left in the game and Cody picked up two of the 49ers' three first downs on the drive with a nice, 10-yard throw to Brandon Lloyd on third-and-8, and a nice 8-yard scramble on a naked bootleg on second-and-5 before the drive stalled at the Tampa Bay 10. That set up Nedney's fifth field goal of the day, which was a career high, from 28 yards out with 1:56 left in the fourth quarter and gave San Francisco a 15-10 lead.
But any hope for a Tampa Bay comeback and any heroics from Simms was snuffed out when he was sacked by Bryant Young and fumbled. 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson recovered at the Bucs' 26 yard line. Young beat right guard Sean Mahan to get to Simms.
The fumble was reviewed by the booth, but the call was not overturned. Four plays later, Nedney wound up missing a 39-yard field goal wide left, but Tampa Bay's sputtering offense failed to gain much ground and the game ended when Bryant recorded his second sack of the day of Simms.
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