Two weeks ago, Tampa Bay played a Super Bowl-caliber NFC East team at home and lost 24-0, gaining just 86 yards of total offense and five first downs against the undefeated New York Giants. On Sunday, the Bucs faced yet another Super Bowl-caliber NFC East team and lost 33-14 on the road at Philadelphia.
“Obviously, we were out-played today by a better football team,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. “They out-played us across the board. They made bigger plays than [we did].”
Yet there was some improvement by Tampa Bay, especially in the play of quarterback Josh Johnson, who struggled in his first NFL start at Washington last week. Still, the Bucs were still outclassed by a more talented Eagles team that picked off Johnson three times and scorched the team’s secondary to send Tampa Bay to a 0-5 start under Morris.
Johnson finished the game 26-of-50 for 240 yards with two touchdowns and three picks – all career-highs. Yet it was Donovan McNabb’s hot hand in his return from a broken rib that allowed the Eagles to soar to victory. McNabb was 16-of-21 passing for 265 yards with three touchdowns and a 157.2 QB rating.
McNabb’s favorite weapon on this Sunday was rookie Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia’s first-round pick last April, who had six catches for 142 yards and the first two touchdowns of his promising NFL career. Maclin’s touchdowns covered 51 and 40 yards, respectively, and represented the seventh and eighth touchdowns over 30 yards that Tampa Bay’s defense has surrendered this season.
With Maclin catching everything in sight, Tampa Bay’s starting receivers Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant couldn’t catch a cold. The two combined for eight catches for 87 yards, but had at least five drops between them on the day. Without naming names, Morris unloaded on the fact the receivers dropped so many passes and it was clear he was talking about Bryant and Clayton, who now has seven dropped passes on the season.
“That’s an issue,” Morris said. “When you are playing with a young quarterback, those plays have got to be made by those caliber of players – those caliber of receivers. Both guys dropped a bunch of balls today. I don’t have the exact numbers here but you have to make those plays for your young quarterback.
“It’s really hard to grade Josh with some of those dropped balls he had today. He could have had an 80-yard bomb on the first throw of the game, or I believe the second [throw] if we catch the ball. He had the opportunity for some other people to catch some passes from him. We dropped some passes today. He still had the two turnovers that were deadly in the red zone, and we can’t let those happen. He did use his feet well and he took some chances downfield. We have to continue to get better. We have to continue to grow with him. We have to help him, and Kellen Winslow stepped up big today and had a big game for him.”
Winslow was the lone bright spot for Tampa Bay’s offense, catching nine passes for 102 yards and both of Tampa Bay’s touchdowns. After the game, Morris was visibly ticked off that other receivers didn’t help Johnson like Winslow did on Sunday.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Morris said. “The guys around him have to step up for him. The positive side is that Kellen Winslow did step up for him. We need everybody. The ones that bother me are the excuses being made by each other – by the players and acting like it’s okay because it’s not.
“I don’t think dropping a ball is mental. I think that’s physical. You’ve just got to catch the ball. You get paid to catch the ball. You’ve got to catch it – everybody. We’ve got to be a tougher football team on ourselves. You’ve got to catch those balls. You can’t have that happen. We have to go to practice first and see who can step up and perform. Who can catch the ball? We’ll throw it to those people. That’s what we’ll do.”
The Bucs had a chance to score even more points than they did as two of Johnson’s three interceptions came inside the Eagles’ 10-yard line. Philadelphia cornerback Asante Samuel led the way with two picks, while fellow corner Sheldon Brown grabbed the other.
“Our offense did a good job of holding the football, but wasn’t able to capitalize on all the red zone opportunities,” Morris said. “You’ve got to win in the red zone. You’ve got to set yourself up to score touchdowns. I tried to play a little more aggressively today when you are playing against a better team like we played today. I went for it on a couple fourth down opportunities. We have to have better percentages than that, especially when we get chances to score down there.”
Instead of allowing new kicker Shane Andrus the chance at kicking field goals, Morris also went for the first down twice on the Eagles’ side of the field instead of attempting to put six points on the scoreboard, only to be turned away by Philadelphia’s defense. Those decisions, combined with the red zone interceptions denied the Bucs the opportunity to hang with the Eagles on the scoreboard.
“Three turnovers – that’s where I’m really disappointed in myself,” Johnson said. “That was a credit to what [the Eagles] were doing. They were bringing everybody. If you watched the game it was pretty obvious. They were bringing more than what we had in protection. They were bringing an extra guy every time.”
The Eagles defense blitzed Johnson all day, sacking him three times. It was a testament to Johnson’s escapability and improvement from last week’s loss at Washington that he wasn’t sacked more often. Tampa Bay’s defense got little pressure on McNabb outside of Jimmy Wilkerson’s career-high three sacks. Wilkerson also forced a fumble, but the ball wound up being recovered by McNabb.
Tampa Bay is still searching for its first win, which was something it’s next opponent, the Carolina Panthers, was able to achieve on Sunday. Carolina hosted Washington and won 20-17 to get off the winless list. The 1-3 Panthers travel to Tampa Bay on Sunday where the Bucs will attempt to get off that list, too. Tampa Bay is one of only four remaining winless teams (St. Louis, Kansas City and Tennessee).
The Buccaneers came into the game ranked 31st in the NFL in third down efficiency with a 22 percent conversion rate. The Eagles defense came into the game with the top-ranked unit on third downs, allowing just 23 percent. That matchup would favor the Eagles on Tampa Bay’s first drive of the game as it went three-and-out on its first possession.
Meanwhile, it only took Philadelphia two plays to get on the scoreboard as McNabb found Maclin for a 51-yard touchdown. The touchdown was Maclin’s first in the NFL as he beat cornerback Elbert Mack, who was in man coverage. With 12:18 left in the first quarter, Philadelphia led 7-0.
The Bucs received great field position midway through the first quarter at the Eagles’ 34-yard line due to a chop block on a Philadelphia punt. Yet the Bucs could not pick up a first down on the drive as Clayton dropped a perfectly thrown pass – his fifth of the season – on fourth-and-2.
The Bucs were able to convert a plethora of third downs on their next drive in some of the most unconventional ways, and actually wound up finishing with a 50 percent conversion rate on the day. After a false start penalty, taking an 8-yard sack and a 2-yard loss by Williams, Johnson was sacked again for a loss of eight yards on third-and-25 at the Tampa Bay 8-yard line. But an unnecessary roughness call on defensive back Macho Harris gave the Bucs a first down at their 31-yard line. On third-and-7, Johnson found Winslow to move the chains again with an 8-yard gain. On third-and-2 at the 50-yard line, Johnson scrambled for eight yards to pick up another first down. On third-and-5 at the Philadelphia 37, a 5-yard offsides penalty on defensive end Trent Cole gave Tampa Bay it’s fourth third down conversion of the drive. But on third-and-3 from the 25-yard line, Williams was stopped after a gain of only two yards.
Needing only a few inches, Morris decided to go for it on fourth down at the 23 for the second time in the game and the play call was disastrous as Johnson fumbled the snap. Linebacker Juqua Parker wrestled the ball away from Johnson and returned the fumble 75 yards for a touchdown. However, Morris challenged the ruling on the field and instant replay confirmed that Johnson did have possession of the ball when he was down. While Philadelphia got possession of the ball, the touchdown was wiped off the board with 7:22 left in the second quarter.
The Eagles would reclaim that touchdown and add to their lead on their next drive. McNabb found tight end Brent Celek breaking free from safety Will Allen down the middle for a 38-yard gain out to the Tampa Bay 38. Two plays later, McNabb found Maclin for a gain of 17 yards down to the 20-yard line. On the next play, McNabb threw his second touchdown pass of the game when he hit fullback Leonard Weaver for a 20-yard scoring pass after he got behind linebacker Geno Hayes. With 4:40 left before halftime, Tampa Bay trailed Philadelphia 14-0.
The Bucs would cut into the Eagles’ lead right before halftime with its best scoring drive in weeks. On first-and-10 from the Bucs’ 20, Johnson hit Bryant with a 31-yard pass down the left sidelines to the Philadelphia 49. After Ward rushed for five yards on first down, Johnson found Winslow down the left seam for a gain of 24 yards down to the Philadelphia 20-yard line. An 11-yard completion to Bryant on the next play set up Tampa Bay with first-and-goal from the 9. After the two-minute warning, Johnson hit Winslow for a touchdown in the back of the end zone over Harris. The play was reviewed by the officials, but the ruling on the field was confirmed. The five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive consumed just 2:45, and with 1:55 left in the first half.
However, Philadelphia answered right back with another downfield dagger to take the momentum away from Tampa Bay. McNabb scrambled for 17 yards on first down out to the Bucs’ 40-yard line after getting favorable starting field position at the Eagles’ 43 thanks to a bad kickoff by Shane Andrus. On the next play, McNabb hit Maclin for a 40-yard touchdown after he gained separation from Allen. With 1:34 left in the second quarter, the Eagles’ lead increased to 21-7.
Tampa Bay had a 46-yard kick return by Clifton Smith wiped out by a holding penalty on linebacker Matt McCoy, so the Bucs had to start their next drive at their own 24-yard line with 1:26 left before halftime. On third-and-15 after Cole’s first sack of the game, Derrick Ward ripped off a 28-yard run up the middle. Fifteen yards was tacked on at the end of the run due to a facemask penalty on Samuel. On first-and-10 from Philadelphia’s 38-yard line, Winslow hauled in 15-yard pass down to the 23. On third-and-10, Johnson’s pass was deflected by Eagles defensive lineman Darren Howard and caught by left tackle Donald Penn, who raced 15 yards and was tackled at the Philadelphia 8-yard line with 10 seconds left. On second-and-goal with six seconds left, Johnson’s pass for Stroughter was deflected and picked off by Samuel, who returned the interception to the 27-yard line.
Midway through the third quarter, Samuel picked off Johnson again. On third-and-10 from the Bucs’ 32-yard line, Johnson was blitzed up the middle and threw an errant pass intended for Sammie Stroughter right into the arms of Samuel, who returned the ball to the Tampa Bay 27. It took the Eagles just two plays to convert that turnover into a touchdown. Brian Westbrook had a 20-yard reception on middle linebacker Barrett Ruud down to the 7. On the next play, Westbrook ran over Ruud for a 7-yard touchdown run. With 8:06 left in the third quarter, the Eagles led 27-7.
The Bucs had another promising drive end in an interception. Tampa Bay drove from its 20-yard line down to the Philadelphia 12. Two big penalties on the Eagles contributed to the drive. Linebacker Chris Gocong was penalized 24 yards for pass interference on Winslow, and defensive end Victor Abiamiri was flagged for roughing the passer, which gave the Bucs 15 yards on the end of a 20-yard pass to Clayton. On third-and-10 from the Philadelphia 12, Johnson’s pass, which was intended for Clayton, was picked off by cornerback Sheldon Brown to end the drive.
Philadelphia added a field goal on its next drive, which began at its own 9-yard line. McNabb was 6-of-6 passing for 59 yards on the drive. The big play was a 16-yard pass to Maclin down to the Tampa Bay 32 on third-and-8 from the Bucs’ 48-yard line. The Bucs defense held on third down and the Eagles had to settle for a 44-yard field goal from David Akers. With 12:08 left in the game the Eagles’ lead swelled to 31-7.
Tampa Bay would answer Philadelphia’s score in the fourth quarter with its second touchdown of the game. Starting off at its own 26-yard line, the Bucs offense picked up a key first down when Johnson scrambled 29 yards down to the Philadelphia 37 on third-and-2. Winslow had catches of 14 and 10 yards to move the chains and set up Tampa Bay with a first-and-goal at the Eagles’ 7. On fourth-and-goal from the 9, Johnson found Winlsow for a second time in the end zone and the Eagles’ lead was cut to 31-14 with 7:17 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs attempted and successfully recovered an onside kick, but promptly went three-and-out on their next series after Abiamiri sacked Johnson on first down.
The Eagles added a safety at the end of the game when Howard blew past center Sean Mahan and left guard Jeremy Zuttah and tackled Williams in the end zone.
PEWTERREPORT.COM PLAYER OF THE GAME With Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant struggling with a combined seven dropped passes on Sunday, tight end Kellen Winslow came to the rescue and had his best game as a Buccaneer and one of the best games he’s had in his career. The play-making tight end had nine catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles.
Winslow’s two touchdowns tied his career high, and his nine catches were the most by a Bucs receiver this season. Winslow leads the team in catches (26), receiving yards (257) and receiving touchdowns (4).
IT WAS OVER WHEN… The Buccaneers had fought back late in the second quarter to cut the Eagles’ 14-0 lead to 14-7 with 1:55 left before halftime. But it took Donovan McNabb only two plays to put another touchdown on the board when he found Jeremy Maclin with a 40-yard scoring strike in the middle of the end zone. The Bucs took over possession trailing 21-7 with 1:34 left and marched down to Philadelphia’s 8-yard line, but on the last play of the first half, Josh Johnson’s pass that was intended for Sammie Stroughter was deflected and intercepted by cornerback Asante Samuel in the end zone. The Bucs would never get closer than 14 points during the rest of the game.
STATS THAT COUNT Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson recorded six tackles and a career-high three sacks on Sunday, and also forced a fumble on his second takedown of Donovan McNabb. His previous high was two sacks last year at Detroit. The last Buccaneers defender to record three sacks was Stylez G. White at Houston on December 9, 2007. Wilkerson’s five sacks lead the Bucs this year. … Not only did quarterback Josh Johnson have a career passing day, completing 26-of-50 for 240 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions, he also led the Bucs in rushing with a career-high 40 yards on five carries (8.0 avg.). … New kicker Shane Andrus converted his first two NFL extra points in Sunday’s game at Philadelphia. … Running back Carnell Williams was tackled in the end zone for a safety, which marked the first time the Bucs have given up a safety since Luke McCown was sacked in the end zone at New Orleans on December 2, 2007. … Bucs left tackle Donald Penn recorded his first NFL reception when he caught a deflected pass and rumbled 15 yards to pick up a first down. … Wide receiver Michael Clayton had three catches for 25 yards on Sunday and moved into ninth place on the Bucs’ all-time receiving yards list. Clayton now has 2,851 yards and moved ahead of Lawrence Dawsey (2,842 yards). He now trails Bruce Hill (2,942 yards). … Running back Derrick Ward had a season-long 28-yard run and finished with six carries for 37 yards, while starting running back Cadillac Williams had eight yards on 10 carries against Philadelphia. … Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud was the Buccaneers’ leading tackler with nine stops.
SUNDAY’S STARTING LINEUPS The announced Tampa Bay starting lineup for Sunday’s game was as follows:
BUCS STARTING OFFENSE WR Michael Clayton LT Donald Penn LG Jeremy Zuttah C Sean Mahan RG Davin Joseph RT Jeremy Trueblood TE Kellen Winslow WR Antonio Bryant TE Jerramy Stevens RB Cadillac Williams QB Josh Johnson
BUCS STARTING DEFENSE LE Jimmy Wilkerson DT Ryan Sims DT Chris Hovan RE Gaines Adams WLB Geno Hayes MLB Barrett Ruud SLB Quincy Black LCB Aqib Talib RCB Ronde Barber FS Tanard Jackson SS Sabby Piscitelli
MISSING IN ACTION Here is a list of Tampa Bay players that were declared inactive for Sunday’s game:
QB Byron Leftwich (emergency QB) C Jeff Faine RB Earnest Graham DE Kyle Moore DE Dre Moore OT Demar Dotson OL Marc Dile SS Corey Lynch
BUCS IN-GAME INJURIES The Buccaneers reported no post-game injuries, although tight end Jerramy Stevens did limp off the field in the fourth quarter after being tackled low on a reception.
KICKOFF CONDITIONS The announced attendance for the Buccaneers vs. Eagles game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia was 69,144. The kickoff temperature was 62 degrees under sunny skies with 45 percent humidity.
UP NEXT The Buccaneers (0-5) travel back to Tampa Bay to square off against the Carolina Panthers (1-3) at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, October 18. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET and will be televised on Fox.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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