TAMPA – The Buccaneers proved to be quite resilient in their 13-10 victory over the visiting Tennessee Titans at Raymond James Stadium. Although they never trailed in the contest, the Bucs had to overcome the loss of starting tight end Alex Smith to a severe ankle injury in the fourth quarter, a fourth quarter Tennessee touchdown that tied the game at 10-10 with just 1:17 left in regulation, a time of possession disadvantage – 23:15 to 6:45 – in the second half, and two instant replay calls that overturned two second half interceptions by Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber.
But Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia and wide receiver Ike Hilliard came through for an offense that had only been on the field for only 12 plays in the second half prior to the Bucs’ final drive. On third-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 20, Garcia eluded oncoming pass rushers and found Hilliard for a 28-yard gain down to the Bucs’ 48-yard line. Hilliard made a great play weaving his way through Titans defenders to get out of bounds and save Tampa Bay’s lone timeout with 54 seconds.
Two plays later, Garcia hit Joey Galloway with a 14-yard pass down to the Tennessee 35-yard line. On the next play, Garcia and Hilliard hooked up again with a 10-yard pass down to the Tennessee 25. Hillard deftly worked the sidelines and stepped out of bounds.
With 11 seconds left, kicker Matt Bryant’s 43-yard field goal gave the Bucs the win. Tampa Bay’s record now sits at 4-2 on the season. The fact that the Bucs have won four games is significant because it equals Tampa Bay’s win total from a year ago when the team finished its dreadful 4-12 campaign.
Barber’s 32nd career pick, which would have set the Tampa Bay all-time interception record, is proving to be quite elusive. Barber had what he thought was a franchise record-setting interception twice on Sunday, only to be denied both times due to instant replay reversals.
The Bucs could have used at least one of those picks, especially the one Barber thought he had with 2:44 left in the fourth quarter when he stepped in front of Titans running back LenDale White and intercepted the ball. But instant replay showed that Barber landed out of bounds and that kept Tennessee’s drive alive.
Kerry Collins had replaced Vince Young, who left the game with 6:55 left in the third quarter due to a strained quadriceps, at quarterback and overcame that possible turnover while engineering a 13-play, 86-yard touchdown drive. Collins, who finished the game 10-of-20 for 125 yards, completed a big, 42-yard pass to wide receiver Justin Gage on third-and-9 from the Tennessee 26. Gage had beaten safety Jermaine Phillips and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud on the play down to the Buccaneers’ 32-yard line.
Six plays later, on third-and-15 from the Tampa Bay 23, Collins hit tight end Bo Scaife with a 17-yard pass to the Bucs’ 6-yard line. White picked up four yards on first down and then scored a touchdown on a 2-yard run on the next play. After a 13-play, 86-yard drive that consumed 6:17, the score was tied 10-10 with 1:17 left in the fourth quarter before the Bucs’ game-winning drive.
Tampa Bay’s offense couldn’t muster up enough plays to sustain drives and keep its defense off the field. Part of the reason was an ineffective running game. Running back Earnest Graham was Tampa Bay’s lone ballcarrier, and was held in check with only 29 yards on 13 carries (2.2 avg.). Graham didn’t muster up much yardage as an outlet receiver, gaining just 17 yards on six catches.
The Bucs defense did a solid job against Tennessee’s running game, holding White to 64 yards on 25 carries (2.6 avg.) and Chris Brown to 26 yards on five carries.
Garcia led the way for the Buccaneers offense and was 20-of-31 for 274 yards with a 69-yard touchdown pass to Joey Galloway, and was able to carry the offense, especially on the game’s final possession.
Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah recovered Brown’s fumble for the Buccaneers at the Tampa Bay 36. That turnover helped set up Tampa Bay’s first score. The Bucs marched 59 yards in eight plays to get into field goal range. The big play on the drive came when Garcia found Michael Clayton down the right sidelines for a 39-yard gain down to the Tennessee 12-yard line. But after three plays, Tampa Bay’s drive stalled at the 5-yard line. Bryant’s 23-yard field goal with 6:07 left in the second quarter gave the Bucs a 3-0 lead.
Tennessee tried to answer, but cornerback Phillip Buchanon came up with Tampa Bay’s second turnover of the day when he intercepted a deep pass intended for Roydell Williams at the Buccaneers 4-yard line with 1:18 left in the second quarter.
The Titans took the second-half kickoff and marched 45 yards in 12 plays with Young converting three straight third downs with perfect passes, picking on Bucs cornerback Sammy Davis twice. The drive ended at the Tampa Bay 30 when Rob Bironas trotted out for a 48-yard field goal. With 7:52 left in the third quarter, the score was tied 3-3.
Young, who finished the game completing 11-of-14 for 120 yards and had just six rushing yards on three carries, injured his right leg at the 6:55 mark of the third quarter, and was replaced by Collins, who failed to pick up a first down on his initial series.
On Tampa Bay’s next offensive possession, Garcia hit Galloway with a 69-yard touchdown pass. Galloway had gotten behind cornerback Nick Harper and safety Calvin Lowry on the play. The Bucs traveled 80 yards in three plays and with 2:29 left in the third quarter, led the Titans 10-3.
With 2:09 left in the third quarter, Barber failed in his first attempt to record his 32nd career interception, which would have broken the Buccaneers all-time record. However, Tennessee challenged the play and the interception was overturned after referee Scott Green determined that he did not have possession when he hit the ground. Titans tight end Ben Troupe broke up the interception as Barber was falling to the turf.
Four plays later, Barber’s bad luck would continue. Collins completed a 14-yard pass to Scaife, who fumbled when he was hit by linebacker Derrick Brooks. Barber recovered the fumble, but then fumbled himself when Brown hit him from the side. Gage recovered the ball at the Buccaneers’ 33-yard line.
But after driving down to the Tampa Bay 17-yard line, Tennessee was forced to punt after Collins took back-to-back sacks from defensive linemen Jovan Haye and Kevin Carter. Those two sacks totaled 20 yards, driving the Titans back to the Tampa Bay 37 and forcing a punt.
IT WAS OVER WHEN… Although the Buccaneers never trailed the Titans throughout this contest, Tennessee tied the game twice – 3-3 with 7:52 left in the third quarter and 10-10 with 1:17 left in the fourth quarter. Except for a 69-yard touchdown catch by Joey Galloway, Tampa Bay’s offense had stalled in the second half. But quarterback Jeff Garcia was able to drive the team 55 yards in seven plays over the span of 1:06 to get Tampa Bay in position for a game-winning Matt Bryant field goal from 43 yards out. With 11 seconds left, Bryant nailed the kick and the Bucs improved to 4-2 on the season.
PEWTERREPORT.COM’S PEWTER PLAYER OF THE GAME Quarterback Jeff Garcia showed why he was brought to Tampa Bay during the offseason – to make plays in crunch time. After giving the Bucs a 10-3 lead in the third quarter with a 69-yard bomb to Joey Galloway, Garcia was called on to win the game with just 1:17 left on the clock. On the final drive, he completed 4-of-6 passes, including his final four, for 55 yards to get into range for Matt Bryant’s game-winning field goal.
Garcia played with poise and was elusive enough to not get sacked, despite being pressured throughout the game. He finished the game completing 20-of-31 passes (64.5 percent) for 274 yards and one touchdown and has yet to throw an interception in 2007. For his efforts, Garcia is this week’s PewterReport.com Pewter Player of the Game.
RECORDS, MILESTONES AND NOTES • For the fourth time this season, the Tampa Bay sideline was emptied as the Buccaneers rallied around a fallen teammate. This time, starting tight end Alex Smith was carted off with a severe left ankle injury. Smith’s ankle was bent backwards in the fourth quarter, which was reminiscent of what happened to running back Michael Pittman last week at Indianapolis. The Bucs also showed their support for wide receiver Paris Warren (broken ankle) in the preseason finale, running back Cadillac Williams (ruptured patellar tendon) two weeks ago, and Pittman (high ankle sprain) last week. Smith becomes the fifth starter to be sidelined with a long-term, major injury for the Buccaneers this year, joining Williams, Pittman, left tackle Luke Petitgout (ACL) and fullback Mike Alstott (neck). Of that group, Williams, Petitgout and Alstott are on injured reserve.
• Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway scored his 26th touchdown as a Buccaneer, moving him into a tie for sixth place with running back Warrick Dunn. Wide receiver Mark Carrier is in fifth place with 27 total touchdowns. His touchdown on Sunday moved him into sole possession of the team career mark for receiving touchdowns (25).
• Bucs defensive lineman Kevin Carter recorded the 99th sack of his career on Sunday.
• Tampa Bay had never beaten the Tennessee Titans franchise prior to Sunday. The Titans had won five straight games against the Buccaneers.
• Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden recorded his first victory over Tennesssee head Jeff Fisher. Coming into Sunday’s game, Gruden was 0-3 against Fisher, including a 0-2 mark while he was the head coach in Oakland.
• Bucs kicker Matt Bryant moved into seventh place in the franchise records for all-time scoring. Bryant scored seven points (two field goals and an extra point) on Sunday and now has 203 points. With his next field goal, Bryant will move into sixth place, passing tight end Jimmie Giles (204 points). Bryant’s game-winning, 43-yard field goal was his longest of the season. He is now 8-of-9 on his field goal attempts (88.8 percent).
• Buccaneers running back Earnest Graham got his first NFL start on Sunday, replacing the injured Michael Pittman. Graham rushed for 29 yards on 13 carries (2.2 avg.) and had 17 yards on six catches (2.8 avg.).
• The Bucs wore their white-on-white uniform combination for the third home game in a row, which is a first for the franchise.
• Tampa Bay’s home record remains perfect in 2007. Three of the Bucs’ four wins this season (vs. New Orleans, St. Louis and Tennessee) came at Raymond James Stadium.
• Tight end Jerramy Stevens started his first game as a Buccaneer. Stevens had started 26 games as a member of the Seattle Seahawks (2002-06).
STATS THAT COUNT Tampa Bay defensive end Gaines Adams recorded his first NFL sack when he touched down Titans quarterback Vince Young in the first quarter. Young had tripped over running back LenDale White on the play and Adams made sure Young was down. … Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton had a season-high two catches for 53 yards against Tennessee. … Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah recorded his first turnover in Tampa Bay when he recovered a fumble in the second quarter. … Bucs cornerback Phillip Buchanon recorded his second interception of the year against Tennessee and he is now the team-leader in 2007. … Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway had four catches for 97 yards and a touchdown to lead all receivers. … Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led all tacklers with 11. … Tampa Bay’s offensive line did not give up a sack for the third time this year (also vs. New Orleans and at Carolina).
BUCS’ STARTING LINEUPS VS. THE TITANS Starting offense: WR Joey Galloway LT Donald Penn LG Arron Sears C John Wade RG Davin Joseph RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Alex Smith TE Jerramy Stevens WR Ike Hilliard RB Earnest Graham
Starting defense: LE Kevin Carter UT Jovan Haye NT Chris Hovan RE Greg Spires WLB Derrick Brooks MLB Barrett Ruud SLB Cato June LCB Phillip Buchanon FS Tanard Jackson SS Jermaine Phillips RCB Ronde Barber
Starting specialists: K Matt Bryant P Josh Bidwell LS Andrew Economos
BUCS-TITANS INACTIVES Bucs Inactives:â€¨ The inactives for the Buccaneers are:â€¨CB Brian Kelly,â€¨RB Michael Pittman,â€¨LB Jeremiah Trotter,â€¨LB Adam Hayward,â€¨G Dan Buenning,â€¨OT Dennis Roland,â€¨DT Ryan Sims,â€¨QB Luke McCown (third-string QB).
Titans inactives: â€¨P Josh Miller,â€¨WR Paul Williams,â€¨CB Kelly Herndon,â€¨RB Chris Henry,â€¨G Leroy Harris,â€¨DE Sean Conover,â€¨WR Brandon Jones andâ€¨DE Bryce Fisher.
BUCS INJURIES Cornerback Brian Kelly didn’t play due to a groin injury. Running back Michael Pittman did not play due to a high ankle sprain. During the game, defensive end Patrick Chukwurah injured his shoulder and missed time in the second half. Tampa Bay tight end Alex Smith left the game near the start of the fourth quarter with a severe left ankle injury.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Titans game at Raymond James Stadium was 65,347. The temperature at kickoff was 81 degrees with 62 percent humidity.
UP NEXT The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2) will travel to Detroit to take on the Lions (3-2) at Ford Field on Sunday, October 21. The Lions are coming off a bye week. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com