TAMPA – Call them the control freaks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the visiting Arizona Cardinals, 17-10, by controlling three meaningful NFL statistics on Sunday.
First, the Bucs controlled the time of possession, hording the ball for 43:07 compared to the Cardinals, which had the ball for only 16:53. Tampa Bay controlled the ball for 13:13 in the third quarter, allowing Arizona to run just five plays in the third quarter.
Second, Tampa Bay controlled third down, converting 57 percent of its third down opportunities (12-of-21), while Arizona only converted 20 percent of its third down plays (2-of-10). That enabled the Bucs to run 77 plays to the Cardinals' 42 plays.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly given the way the 5-4 Buccaneers have lost their last two games, Tampa Bay won the turnover battle 2-0, picking off Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner twice. That was something the Bucs failed to do in back-to-back losses to Detroit and Jacksonville that dropped Tampa Bay to 4-4 until Sunday's victory.
Although Tampa Bay's defensive line didn't record a sack against Arizona, the group, which received a pep talk Saturday night from Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones, a personal friend of Bucs general manager Bruce Allen, came to play and pressured Warner all day.
Warner finished the game completing only 10-of-30 passes (33.3 percent) for 172 yards, and finished with a QB rating of 26 thanks to interceptions from safeties Tanard Jackson, which set up a Tampa Bay field goal in the second quarter, and Jermaine Phillips, which finished off Arizona with 2:31 left in regulation.
Tampa Bay's defense stuffed running back Edgerrin James, who had nine carries for 15 yards and one touchdown, and stymied Arizona's rushing attack, holding the Cardinals to only 12 carries for 23 yards (1.9 avg.).
Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia was turnover-free for the first time in three games and completed 18-of-28 passes (64.2 percent) for 196 yards and one touchdown. Because of Arizona's exotic defensive schemes and its blitzing in the first half, head coach Jon Gruden decided to put the ball in the hands of running back Earnest Graham, who rushed for career-highs with 34 carries for 124 yards and one touchdown in helping Tampa Bay out-gain Arizona 350-195 in the game.
Tampa Bay's only blunders in the game were the failure to come away with points on an 18-play, 80-yard drive that stretched over the third and fourth quarters, a couple of near-miss interceptions, nine penalties for 70 yards and two missed field goals by Matt Bryant, including an uncharacteristic miss from 26 yards out in the fourth quarter that would have extended Tampa Bay's lead to 20-3.
The Bucs' reward for getting to 5-4 during the 2007 season? Aside from the rest that comes with the bye week, Tampa Bay is now in sole possession of first place in the NFC South ahead of surging, 4-5 New Orleans, winners of four straight, and 4-5 Carolina, which lost to Tennessee, 20-7.
Arizona got on the scoreboard first on its opening possession. Warner drove the Cardinals deep into Buccaneers territory with a 47-yard pass play to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on second-and-3 from the Arizona 19. Cornerback Ronde Barber thought Warner was going to throw a quick hitch and jumped the underneath route. But instead, Fitzgerald went deep and was wide open. Fitzgerald would have scored but he stepped out of bounds at the Tampa Bay 33. On third-and-6 from the Tampa Bay 29, Warner threw a pass intended for wide receiver Jerheme Urban, but Phillips drilled him and caused an incompletion. After driving 59 yards in six plays, Arizona had to settle for a 47-yard Neil Rackers field goal as a result. With 12:17 left in the first quarter, Arizona led 3-0.
Tampa Bay answered Arizona's score on its initial possession, marching 77 yards on 10 plays with the drive lasting 6:21. Graham picked up 17 yards on five carries, but it was Garcia finding Galloway deep down the middle of the field for a 37-yard touchdown strike. Galloway beat Arizona middle linebacker Gerald Hayes in coverage and literally took the ball away from safety Terrence Holt at the 5-yard line for a touchdown. With 5:56 left, Tampa Bay led Arizona 7-3.
Rookie free safety Tanard Jackson picked off Warner at the Arizona 33 on a pass intended for tight end Leonard Pope. Pope grabbed Jackson's facemask and was flagged for a 15-yard penalty, setting up Tampa Bay at the Arizona 17. But two back-to-back false starts on right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and left guard Arron Sears set up Tampa Bay at the 27. Graham's 12-yard run on the first play of the drive set up second-and-8 at the 15. But the Bucs had to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Matt Bryant on fourth-and-7. With 13:37 left in the second quarter, the Bucs led the Cardinals, 10-3.
The remainder of the second quarter was a punt-fest with Arizona punting the ball four times and Tampa Bay punting three times after the Bucs' touchdown before Bryant missed a 58-yard field goal attempt wide left at the end of the first half.
The Bucs took the opening second half kickoff and marched 64 yards in 11 plays to take a commanding lead in the game. Graham did most of the dirty work with 19 yards on six carries. Galloway picked up a key first down on third-and-5 at the Cardinals 45-yard line with a 28-yard gain on a crossing route. A 15-yard facemask on linebacker Calvin Pace set up Tampa Bay with a first-and-goal at the Arizona 4. Graham's 2-yard touchdown two plays would give the Buccaneers a 17-3 lead with 10:33 left in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay wasted a golden opportunity to add points on a clock-killing 19-play, 86-yard drive that consumed 11:59 of time in the third and fourth quarters. Graham rushed for 22 yards and added 13 yards on two catches on the drive. The Bucs converted five first downs on the drive before a perfect pass to tight end Alex Smith in the end zone was dropped, costing Tampa Bay a touchdown. To add insult to injury, Bryant missed a 26-yard, chip shot field goal wide left.
That would prove costly as Arizona marched right down the field on a 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive in 4:17. Warner was 6-of-10 on the drive for 87 yards, finding Larry Fitzgerald twice for 32 yards. James' 3-yard touchdown run with 7:30 left in the fourth quarter cut Tampa Bay's lead to 17-10.
IT WAS OVER WHEN…
Backed up deep in its own territory and trailing 17-10, Arizona went three-and-out and had to punt the ball back to Tampa Bay with 3:04 remaining. The Bucs ran three plays, which caused the Cardinals to burn their last two timeouts. That would prove costly as Warner threw an interception on the Cardinals' next play from their own 16-yard line. Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips intercepted the ball with 2:31 left in regulation. Television instant replay showed that Phillips didn't get two feet in bounds, but since Arizona didn't have timeouts left, it couldn't challenge the play. The official in the instant replay booth can only review plays inside the 2:00 warning. After the 2:00 mark, Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham ripped off a 15-yard run to pick up a first down and allow the Bucs to run out the clock.
PEWTERREPORT.COM'S PEWTER PLAYER OF THE GAME
Tampa Bay running back Earnest Graham was the workhorse in the Buccaneers' offensive attack against Arizona in the team's 17-10 victory on Sunday. Graham rushed for 100 yards in a game for the first time in his NFL career and established career-highs with 34 carries for 124 yards (3.6 avg.). He also scored one rushing touchdown on a 2-yard carry in the third quarter that ultimately proved to be the difference-maker on the scoreboard. For his efforts against Arizona, in which he was often times running into an eight-man front, Graham is this week's PewterReport.com Pewter Player of the Game. Graham now has 116 carries for 454 and four rushing touchdowns on the season to lead Tampa Bay.
RECORDS, MILESTONES AND NOTES
• The Buccaneers wore their red jerseys and pewter pants uniform combination for the first time this season. The Bucs had worn their pewter pants in all four road games this year, but this was the first time at home that Tampa Bay wore pewter pants and also red jerseys.
• Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway's first quarter touchdown was his 27th as a Buccaneer and moved him into a tie for third place with Mark Carrier. Galloway has 28 total touchdowns in Tampa Bay and now moves into sole possession of fifth place in team annals for total TDs.
• Wide receivers Chas Gessner (83) and Michael Spurlock (17) played their first games as Tampa Bay Buccaneers against Arizona on Sunday. Spurlock returned two kickoffs for a 28.5 avg. with a long of 35.
• Tampa Bay's 43:07 time of possession is the best for a regulation game in franchise history, and ranks second overall behind the Bucs' 48:09 time of possession recorded in regulation and overtime vs. Oakland (11/24/85).
• Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was ejected in the final minute of the game for unsportsmanlike conduct. During the last two minutes of regulation, Trueblood and Tampa Bay's offensive linemen got into a shoving match with Arizona's defensive line.
• Tampa Bay's first-round draft pick, Gaines Adams, got his first NFL start against Arizona. Adams started at right defensive end, while Kevin Carter started at left defensive end in place of the injured Greg Spires
• The Bucs did not commit a turnover and are 15-0 under Jon Gruden when they don't surrender the ball.
• Since 2002, the Bucs are 16-0 under Jon Gruden when the offense runs the ball 35 times or more.
• Arizona rushed for only 23 yards, which is tied for the fifth-best single-game effort by the Buccaneers defense in team history (tied with 23 yards rushing vs. Minnesota, 10/18/87). The team record for the fewest rushing yards in a game is 10 against Washington (12/4/94).
STATS THAT COUNT
Tampa Bay wide receiver Ike Hilliard led the Bucs with seven catches for 70 yards, while Joey Galloway hauled in five receptions for 84 yards. … With his interception on Sunday against Arizona, strong safety Jermaine Phillips now leads the Buccaneers with three picks. His three interceptions also marks a season-high. … Bucs rookie free safety Tanard Jackson recorded his second interception and broke up a career-high five passes. … Tampa Bay broke up a season-high 11 passes against Arizona. … Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 49.7 yards per punt with a 41.7-yard net average, downing two punts inside the 20-yard line. … Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye led the team with four tackles. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks had just three tackles between them because Arizona didn't run many plays due to Tampa Bay's time of possession advantage. … The Bucs didn't record any sacks, but they did have seven QB hurries with Haye and defensive ends Greg White and Gaines Adams each recording two.
BUCS' STARTING LINEUPS VS. THE CARDINALS
WR Joey Galloway
LT Donald Penn
LG Arron Sears
C John Wade
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Alex Smith
WR Ike Hilliard
QB Jeff Garcia
RB Earnest Graham
FB B.J. Askew
LE Kevin Carter
UT Jovan Haye
NT Chris Hovan
RE Gaines Adams
WLB Derrick Brooks
MLB Barrett Ruud
SLB Cato June
LCB Phillip Buchanon
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Jermaine Phillips
RCB Ronde Barber
K Matt Bryant
P Josh Bidwell
LS Andrew Economos
Bucs Inactives: RB Michael Pittman,â€¨LB Jeremiah Trotter, LB Quincy Black, DE Greg Spires, G Dan Buenning,â€¨DE Patrick Chukwurah,â€¨WR Michael Clayton and QB Luke McCown (emergency quarterback).
Cardinals Inactives:â€¨SS Oliver Celestin, FB Tim Castille, LB Karlos Dansby, DE Joe Tafoya, G Keydrick Vincent, TE Ben Patrick, DT Ross Kolodziej and QB Luke McCown (emergency quarterback).
Bucs running back Michael Pittman (ankle), defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder) and wide receiver Michael Clayton (ankle) were out once again and defensive end Greg Spires (calf) missed his first game of the season. Cornerback Brian Kelly (groin) and tight end Alex Smith (ankle) returned to action this week against Arizona. Smith did tweak his ankle in the fourth quarter and missed a couple of plays before returning later in the quarter. With 13:10 left in the third quarter, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood left the game due to a right shoulder injury. Anthony Davis replaced Trueblood at right tackle for a series before Trueblood returned.
The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Cardinals game at Raymond James Stadium was 65,267. Conditions at kickoff were 78 degrees with 53 percent humidity.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4) have a bye week before visiting Atlanta to take on the Falcons (2-6) on November 18. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.
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