Pewter Report Buccaneers beat writer Mark Cook grades Tampa Bay for how it did – and didn't – follow his Five Keys To Victory in the team's 24-18 loss to the Chicago Bears
Key 1: Get Some Hands On Hester
All in all, the Buccaneers were able to achieve this key. Michael Koenen was again one of the bright spots in a poorly played game, keeping the ball out of Hester’s hands at times with directional kicking. The Buccaneers special teams did a good job of staying in their lanes and working Hester to the sidelines on kick coverage, limiting the game-changer to just a 6.6 average on punt returns and one kickoff return for 14 yards.
Koenen’s leg continues to be a weapon, as Tampa Bay’s prized free agent averaged 43.5 yards on eight punts including a season-long of 65. The former Falcon still has yet to have a touchback all year while punting, and placed three more inside the Bears 20.
The Buccaneers defense was fairly successful against Hester as a receiver, limiting him to 46 yards on five receptions with a long of 15.
Final Grade: B+
Key 2: Keep Graham Going
Unfortunately for Graham, the Buccaneers and their fans, the eight-year veteran injured his ankle while catching a short pass from Josh Freeman early in the first half. As a result, the game plan of establishing an effective ground game was essentially thrown out of the window, with Kregg Lumpkin the only healthy back on Tampa Bay’s roster.
Lumpkin is no Blount, or even Graham for that matter, and was held to 15 yards on eight carries. There has been a concern all season with the running back depth, and even more so after the Buccaneers cut Allen Bradford and didn’t promote rookie Mossis Madu from the practice squad.
Without a true run-threat the Buccaneers were swimming against a strong current the moment Graham left the game. He finished the game with two carries for 13 yards (6.5 avg.) and one catch for minus-2 yards, which was the play that he got hurt on.
Final Grade: F
Key 3: Gain The Crowd's Affection
While it was hard to judge from television how many Buccaneers fans were in the crowd, the applause seemed to be evenly split. And for those neutral fans, it was the Bears who seized the momentum in the first three quarters, giving them the edge in the 12th man.
The Buccaneers attempt for a fourth-quarter comeback had the 75,000-plus fans in attendance cheering, but Freeman’s late fourth-quarter pass was intercepted handing the victory to Chicago.
Playing in a foreign country is a tough chore, as a couple players told us before leaving, mentioning the crowd isn’t as familiar with when to cheer and when not to. That can make it a little strange to feed off of the energy as they would if this contest had been played at Raymond James Stadium.
We aren’t saying for sure that had this game been played in Tampa it would have made a difference, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
Final Grade: C
Key 4: Continue To Protect Freeman
The Tampa Bay offensive line has been a solid rock in pass protection for the most part this season and Sunday was a mixed bag. While Freeman was only officially sacked once, the pressure from the Bears’ front four harassed Tampa Bay’s QB for much of the day, forcing Freeman to scramble and throw the ball away several times.
With that said, in the second half, even when the line had to be reshuffled again, the offensive line was a big part of Tampa Bay’s comeback that came up just short.
The Bears ran several stunts and at times confused the line. Without center Jeff Faine, and later Jeremy Zuttah, who injured his left knee in the game, communication issues may have contributed to the pressure. The Bucs offensive line was also called for one illegal hands to the face, two false starts and three holding penalties against the Bears.
Final Grade: C-
Key 5: Build A Fort Around Forte
From the first quarter on, Bears running back Matt Forte ran with ease against the Buccaneers defense. Forte had over 100 yards by halftime and finished the game with 145 yards on 25 carries, including a 32-yard second quarter touchdown run that helped build a 14-2 lead over Tampa Bay.
Middle linebacker Mason Foster left the game early but backup Adam Hayward played well for the most part, collecting five tackles. Too many missed assignments and not maintaining lane and gap integrity hurt Tampa Bay all day long in run defense. The Buccaneers safety support was poor most of the afternoon on running plays, particularly on the two rushing touchdowns by Marion Barber and Forte.
The Bears rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns, although the Buccaneers did tighten up in the fourth quarter by coming up with three key third-and-short stops, putting the ball back in the offense’s hands.
But by that time, the damage had pretty much been done and the inability to stop the run was the biggest single factor in the Buccaneers now sitting at 4-3 as opposed to 5-2.
Final Grade: F
Final Analysis: Coming into the game it appeared the Buccaneers had the upper hand with the fact they arrived early while the Bears didn’t arrive until Friday. But it was the Bucs that looked as though their body clocks were in need of resetting, especially through the first three quarters. The bye week couldn’t have come soon enough as the amount of players who were injured over the last two weeks will need the full two weeks to have chance to get back on the field.
Cook’s Final Score Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Bears 20
Actual Final Score: Bears 24, Buccaneers 18