TAMPA – In front of a national audience on NBC’s Sunday Night Football and a distracted hometown crowd that was just as interested in the outcome of the final game of the Rays-Red Sox American League Championship game as it was in seeing the Bucs advance to a 5-2 record, Tampa Bay beat the visiting Seattle Seahawks, 20-10, and the Rays beat the Red Sox 3-1 – so it was a good night for fans in the Tampa Bay area.

If the hometown crowd wasn’t revved up by the first prime time game hosted in Tampa Bay since 2003, it certainly was after legendary fullback Mike Alstott was introduced with the Buccaneers offense prior to kickoff. It was certainly Alstott’s night with a pre-game video chronicling his illustrious Tampa Bay career and the team’s cheerleaders decked out in custom, tight-fitting midriff Alstott jerseys. Alstott was also honored at halftime by the Buccaneers organization, but for some reason, his jersey wasn’t retired as most people expected.

The Buccaneers started off hot on both sides of the ball, opening up a 17-0 halftime lead and out-gaining the Seahawks 266-44 yards. Tampa Bay finished strong, out-gaining Seattle 402-176 yards and owning a dominating time of possession advantage – 41:41 to 18:19. The primary reason why was the play of Buccaneers quarterback Jeff Garcia, who was masterful on third down and allowed the team to convert 10-of-18 third downs (56 percent).

“Garcia was outstanding,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. “He was hot tonight. He made a lot of plays.”

Garcia finished the game 27-of-36 for 310 yards with one touchdown and a QB rating of 109.7. His primary target was wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who started once again in place of the injured Joey Galloway. Bryant finished with a game-high 115 yards on six catches (19.2 avg.), kick-starting the offense with a 47-yard touchdown pass from Garcia on Tampa Bay’s first possession.

Garcia’s counterpart, Seneca Wallace, who started in place of injured starter Matt Hasselbeck, didn’t provide much offense for Seattle. Wallace was harassed all night by a swarming Bucs defense and completed just 12-of-23 passes for 73 yards with one interception and a meaningless touchdown in garbage time.

By the start of the fourth quarter with the Buccaneers’ victory seemingly in hand with a 17-3 lead, about one-third of the fans had filed out to go watch the Rays beat the Red Sox and earn their first trip to the World Series. With five minutes remaining, less than half of the stadium was full as the finish to the Rays game took center stage.

But in the background, a dominating night from the Bucs defense and great nights from Garcia and Bryant won’t be forgotten by giddy Tampa Bay fans who saw their football team advance to 5-2 and maintain their lead in the NFC South division, and witnessed their baseball team make history by advancing to the World Series.

Tampa Bay started the night off right, opening up a 7-0 lead on its first possession on a 47-yard touchdown catch by Bryant. That big play capped off the Bucs’ 63-yard drive that took six plays. But disaster almost struck on Tampa Bay’s second play when Seattle middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu tipped Garcia’s pass and would have recorded the interception if not for Warrick Dunn breaking up the catch. Four plays later on third-and-7, Bryant was stride for stride with Seahawks cornerback Kelly Jennings until Jennings fell down at the 5-yard line, allowing Bryant to catch the ball and waltz in for the score – his first as a Buccaneer. With 9:13 left in the first quarter, the Bucs led the Seahawks, 7-0.

The Buccaneers appeared to be in position to increase their lead early in the second quarter. Garcia showed some real creativity on this drive, flipping a 12-yard pass to fullback Jameel Cook to pick up a first down and scrambling eight yards on third-and-6 to move the chains to the Seattle 23-yard line. On the next play, the Bucs broke out the “Wildcat” formation with Dunn at quarterback and Garcia flanked out to the right at wide receiver. Dunn took the shotgun snap and handed off to Earnest Graham, who ran towards Garcia, who was attempting to block for him.

But four plays later, with 12:40 left in the first quarter, Hillard caught a pass down to the 4-yard line but was sandwiched between Tatupu and linebacker Leroy Hill. All three helmets collided and Hilliard suffered a serious injury that appeared to be a concussion. Hilliard lay motionless for several minutes, but when the cart came out, he got up and sat in the seat of the cart instead of being put on a backboard.

Seattle challenged the play and instant replay showed that Hilliard fumbled the ball. The Seahawks had recovered the ball, but whistles blew before they could advance the ball. Seattle took over at their own 4, but were forced to punt after going three-and-out. Tatupu also suffered a concussion on the play and had to leave the game.

The Bucs did cash in on their next possession, driving 59 yards in six plays. Garcia stayed hot and hit former Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens with a 31-yard pass. Stevens outraced linebacker Julian Peterson downfield and set the Bucs up with a first down at the Seattle 16. A 15-yard strike to Bryant gave Tampa Bay a first-and-goal at the Seattle 1. Two plays later, Graham, who finished with 52 yards on 23 carries, scored on a 1-yard touchdown run from the fullback position. With 6:32 left in the second quarter, Tampa Bay’s lead increased to 14-0.

On the next series, Wallace was pressured by defensive end Gaines Adams and threw a laser down the seam to wide receiver Koren Robinson that was tipped by middle linebacker. Rookie cornerback Aqib Talib caught the deflection near midfield and advanced the interception 19 yards to the Seattle 35. That interception was Talib’s third of the season, which leads the Buccaneers.

That set up another Tampa Bay score. A 16-yard catch by tight end Alex Smith and a 9-yard run by Dunn set up the Buccaneers at the 10-yard line. But the drive stalled there and Matt Bryant trotted out for a 27-yard field goal. With 3:12 left in the first quarter, the Bucs were on top of the Seahawks, 17-0

Josh Wilson returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards down the left sidelines set up Seattle at the 33-yard line. Bucs free safety Tanard Jackson saved the touchdown. But two plays later, Wallace fumbled the snap and Ruud recovered for the Buccaneers on their own 31-yard line. However, Tampa Bay was not able to convert that turnover into points as Bryant missed a 47-yard field goal attempt into the wind at halftime.

The Bucs started the second half with the ball, but after bobbling the opening kickoff, Dexter Jackson scooped up and then fumbled at the Tampa Bay 6. The Bucs were able to recover, however. But after a three-and-out by the Buccaneers, a 24-yard punt return by Justin Forsett set up Seattle at the Tampa Bay 25. The Seahawks drove down to the Buccaneers 12-yard line, but on third-and-8, Morris was stopped by Ruud for a gain of four yards on a pass play, forcing a field goal. Olindo Mare’s 26-yard field goal put Seattle on the scoreboard for the first time. With 10:21 left, Tampa Bay’s lead was cut to 17-3.

On first down from the Seattle 35-yard line, Morris ripped off a 45-yard run down to the Tampa Bay 20. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon saved the touchdown for Tampa Bay. But on third-and-10 from the 20, Wallace’s pass to the end zone for Robinson went out of bounds and Mare missed a 37-yard field goal with 6:21 left in the third quarter.

On Tampa Bay’s next possession, Garcia was smooth and accurate on third downs, converting one to the Seattle 49 with a 19-yard strike to Bryant on third-and-8, and finding Michael Clayton with a 13-yard pass on third-and-5 to the Tampa Bay 33. But on third-and-11 at the Seattle 34, Garcia was called for intentional grounding, which pushed the Bucs out of field goal territory and forced a punt.

The Bucs padded their lead with a clock-chewing 16-play, 67-yard drive that consumed 9:34 off the clock in the fourth quarter. Graham rushed for 31 yards on a drive that was aided by a key 19-yard catch by Bryant, who moved the ball from the Tampa Bay 47-yard line to the Seattle 34. A 27-yard field goal by Matt Bryant gave the Bucs a 20-3 lead with 4:39 left in the game.

A 46-yard return by Wilson out to the 50 gave Seattle good starting field position on their first and only touchdown drive of the game. A 21-yard run by Jones got the ball to the Tampa Bay 11-yard line. On fourth-and-1 at the Tampa Bay 2, Wallace used play action to roll out and find tight end John Carlson for a touchdown. With 1:55 left in regulation, Tampa Bay’s lead was trimmed to 20-10.

Seattle tried an onside kick, but the ball was recovered by Clayton. That allowed the Bucs to run out the collect and extend their home winning streak to improve to 4-0 at home.

Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia might have played his best game as a Buccaneer. Garcia not only completed 27-of-36 (75 percent) for 310 yards and one touchdown for a 109.7 QB rating, but he was deadly on third down, accounting for eight of the team’s 10 third down conversions. Garcia threw for seven first downs and rushed for eight yards to convert another one.

With two strong showings in consecutive weeks, it looks like the old Garcia is back. After the game, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden confirmed that Garcia would remain the starter.

The Buccaneers came out on fire on offense in the first quarter and scored on their first possession. Jeff Garcia’s 47-yard touchdown pass on Tampa Bay’s opening series gave the team a 7-0 lead that helped lay the foundation of a 17-point lead in the first half. That hot start on offense fueled Tampa Bay’s defense, which held Seattle to only 44 first-half yards.

Wide receiver Antonio Bryant hauled in his 20th career touchdown in the first quarter. The 47-yard scoring strike was the Bucs’ longest pass of the year. Bryant recorded the second 100-yard receiving game of the season for Tampa Bay. … Fullback Jameel Cook played in his first game with the Buccaneers since he left in 2005 and caught a 12-yard pass in the first quarter. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and cornerback Phillip Buchanon led the Bucs with six tackles. Ruud had a tackle for loss, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery. … For the third straight game, Tampa Bay did not record a sack on defense. … Tight end Jerramy Stevens had 55 yards on four catches against his former team. … Tampa Bay’s running game was held in check. Earnest Graham had only 52 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries (2.3 avg.), while Warrick Dunn had 37 yards on 13 carries (2.8 avg.). … For the seventh game this year, the Bucs have not allowed a rushing touchdown or a 100-yard rusher. … Bucs head coach Jon Gruden recorded his 56th career win (56-52 overall record, 53 regular season and three postseason wins), which ties him with former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy for the most wins in franchise history. Gruden also collected his 75th win since 2000, which moved him ahead of Seattle coach Mike Holmgren (74) and into sixth place among active coaches. Dungy leads the way with 95, followed by Bill Belichick (94), Andy Reid (86), Mike Shanahan (81) and Jeff Fisher (76). … The Bucs wore their red jerseys and white pants tonight and are 9-3 with that uniform combination. … Tampa Bay's 5-2 start is tied for the best start in franchise history through seven games. This is the sixth time Tampa Bay has started 5-2 with the last time coming in 2005.

The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:

WR Antonio Bryant
LT Donald Penn
LG Arron Sears
C Jeff Faine
RG Davin Joseph
RT Jeremy Trueblood
TE Alex Smith
WR Michael Clayton
FB Earnest Graham
RB Warrick Dunn
QB Jeff Garcia

LE Kevin Carter
NT Chris Hovan
UT Jovan Haye
RE Gaines Adams
SLB Cato June
MLB Barrett Ruud
WLB Derrick Brooks
LCB Phillip Buchanon
RCB Ronde Barber
FS Tanard Jackson
SS Jermaine Phillips

Here is a list of Tampa Bay’s inactives for the Bucs game:

WR Joey Galloway
FB B.J. Askew
DT Greg Peterson
OT James Lee
OT Anthony Davis
WR Maurice Stovall
QB Brian Griese
QB Josh Johnson (emergency quarterback)

Running back Warrick Dunn was shaken up at the 5:52 mark of the first quarter and left the game momentarily with a back injury, but returned. Long snapper Andrew Economos (left arm) and defensive end (left shoulder) were also shaken up in the first quarter. Both players returned to action. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard was taken to the hospital in the first half after sustaining a concussion from being sandwiched between linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill.

The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Seahawks game at Raymond James Stadium was 64,811. The temperature at kickoff was 75 degrees with 41 percent humidity.

The Buccaneers (5-2) travel to Dallas to face the banged up Cowboys (4-3) on Sunday at Texas Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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: sr@pewterreport.com
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