Key 1. Use Blount Force Trauma
Although he fumbled on his first carry of the game after a 12-yard gain, Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount picked up where he left off last week in Green Bay by running hard and hurdling would-be defenders.
Blount had 42 yards rushing at halftime and added another highlight-reel play after catching a 35-yard Freeman pass and leaping over a Titans’ cornerback.
Blount’s punishing running style continued in the second half but he also had another critical fumble, allowing the Titans to strip the football away. While everyone loves the second- and third-effort Blount displays, turnovers happen often in those situations.
For the game, Blount had 103 yards on 20 carries and added a career-high three catches for 56 yards but also two important fumbles.
Final Grade: B
Key 2. Keep Johnson Struggling
Tennessee star tailback Chris Johnson’s game started slowly getting stuffed on his first two carries, but he broke out of his funk and gained 46 yards on nine carries in the first half. For some reason in the second quarter Tennessee got away from the run.
Beginning the second half Tennessee went back to Johnson and was marching down the field when Aqib Talib forced a Johnson fumble that was recovered by Sean Jones.
Poor tackling and lack of gap integrity led to more second-half chunks of yardage and by midway through the third quarter Johnson had already gained 100 yards.
The Buccaneers had no answers for Johnson all day, and even when they knew Tennessee was going to run the ball near the end of the game, they still allowed Johnson to break off a long first-down run with the two-minute warning approaching.
In Johnson’s first five games this season he ran for a total of 190 yards, Sunday he matched that on just 23 carries.
Key 3. Hassle Hasselbeck
Tampa Bay’s defense did a good job of staying in Titans QB Matt Hasslebeck’s face but the crafty veteran still was able to make some plays. Da’Quan Bowers applied pressure early and often and the Buccaneers coaching staff dialed up several blitzes with its linebackers and even Ronde Barber and safety Sean Jones. The play calling helped force a first-half Geno Hayes interception.
In the second half Adrian Clayborn pressured Hasselbeck into throwing late off his back foot and Aqib Talib stepped underneath the route and picked off the Titans QB, returning it for a touchdown.
The pressure continued but the Buccaneers only were able to bring down Hasselbeck two times: one by Haynesworth (officially scored a team sack) and another by Clayborn. Clayborn notched his team-leading fifth sack of the season. But when it mattered the most, the Titans 13-year veteran was able to calmly march the offense downfield behind the legs of Johnson and a few clutch throws, tossing the game winner to Damian Williams inside two minutes.
Final Grade: C
Key 4. Find A Nickel
E.J. Biggers was his usual up-and-down self early, getting caught playing the quarterback instead of the receiver in the first half on a third-down conversion and also missing two tackles. One allowed Tennessee to convert on third-and-17 and led to a field goal to extend the Titans first-half lead to 10-3. Biggers did have a big pass breakup in the first half, knocking the ball loose from Tennessee receiver Damian Williams. In the third quarter Biggers again saved a touchdown pass by breaking up another throw while in man coverage at the goal line.
Biggers' game Sunday was much improved over the last few weeks but he continues to be one of the poorest tacklers in the secondary. For some reason Biggers never tackles high, normally just diving at the opponents’ feet.
Elbert Mack, playing in dime packages, and had a pass break up early but not a lot after that.
Final Grade: C
Key 5. Seize The Day
The table was set, but the Buccaneers spilled dessert down the front of their uniforms, keeping the game close but being unable to finish. With tons of confidence, especially offensively, you would think the Buccaneers had a chance to silence the critics, but they were unable to step up to the challenge.
All the progress made last week at Green Bay in stopping the run was for naught, as the Buccaneers apparently need some more full padded practices this week. Tackling was as bad or worse than against Houston two weeks ago.
Final Grade: F
With the season on the line, Tampa Bay blinked and couldn’t make the critical stop or offensive conversion when those plays were needed most. The playoffs are still a mathematical possibility, but hey, so is winning the lottery. Things are about to get ugly on talk radio and internet message boards.
The next five games will be a test of character for this young football team. Guys can choose to mail it in and look forward to their offseason or fight to gain respect from their fans and peers around the league.
This will be head coach Raheem Morris’ most critical coaching stretch.
Cook’s Prediction: Buccaneers 21, Titans 17
Reynold’s Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Titans 20
Horchy’s Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Titans 20
Actual Final Score: Titans 23, Buccaneers 17