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Just as he did last week against the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brian Griese started Monday night’s contest in St. Louis on fire, completing 9-of-9 pass attempts and leading the offense on two touchdown scoring drives to start the game. Griese’s go-to receiver was rookie Michael Clayton, whom he connected with on a 44-yard pass play in the second quarter, which helped to set up the team’s second touchdown, which was capped off by Griese’s 5-yard throw to running back Michael Pittman on third-and-goal. Griese’s first touchdown pass came in the third quarter on a third-and-goal play when he ran a naked bootleg to his left and found tight end Will Heller wide open in the end zone for the score, which tied the game at 21.
Although Griese was sharp, especially on some critical third down and long down-and-distance plays, he made a costly mistake in the fourth quarter on third-and-18 when he launched a pass into the end zone but had it picked off by the Rams. Other than that play, Griese was impressive and consistently moved the Bucs into Rams territory and scoring position. He was comfortable in the pocket throughout most of the game, but when he was pressured Griese made some plays by buying himself time to throw with his feet. He finished the game completing 27-of-40 passes for 286 yards and tossing two touchdowns and one interception.
*Tampa Bay converted 6-of-15 (40 percent) of its third down attempts and produced 17 first downs on Monday night.
What made QB Brian Griese’s performance even more impressive was the fact that the Bucs didn’t give him much of a running game on Monday night.
Bucs RB Michael Pittman rushed 13 times for 37 yards (2.8 avg.) while FB Mike Alstott rushed five times for 17 yards (3.4 avg.).
However, both Pittman and Alstott came up with touchdowns in this contest. Alstott’s 1-yard run in the first quarter tied the game at 7, and while he wasn’t that effective on the ground, the “A-Train” proved to be a threat in the flats as a receiver. Alstott hauled in three passes for 20 yards and picked up a few key first downs in short-yardage situations.
Pittman, who fared quite well in the backfield on blitz pickup, hauled in a 5-yard pass from Griese on third-and-goal for a touchdown in the second quarter. But in the third quarter with the Bucs on the Rams’ 15-yard line, Pittman allowed Rams safety Adam Archuleta to strip the ball from him, pick it up and return it 93 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. That costly turnover proved to be the difference in the game.
*Tampa Bay had just 55 net rushing yards against St. Louis.
Tampa Bay rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton was absolutely sensational on Monday night. Clayton was QB Brian Griese’s go-to guy, hauling in a team-high eight passes for 142 yards (17.8 avg.). Clayton came up with some big catches, including a 44-yarder down the left seam, on Tampa Bay’s first two scoring drives, both of which resulted in touchdowns. Three of Clayton’s receptions came on third down plays, and his final catch came on a fourth-and-5 play. That grab was good enough to give the Bucs a huge 25-yard gain and a first down, and Clayton even had the awareness to get out of bounds to stop the clock.
Bucs WR Tim Brown, who is serving as Clayton’s mentor, didn’t exactly set a good example for the rookie receiver when he hauled in a pass from Griese with just under :30 remaining in the game and the Bucs trailing by a touchdown. Brown raced 21 yards upfield to the Rams’ 15-yard line but fumbled when cornerback Aeneas Williams stripped him of the ball before his knee hit the turf. That costly fumble killed any chance the Bucs had of tieing the game up. Brown finished the game with two catches for 26 yards.
Bucs WR Charles Lee had three catches for 31 yards, including a 14-yarder. He sprained his right knee in the first half but played out the rest of the game.
*Tampa Bay produced 332 yards of total offense against St. Louis.
Tampa Bay’s tight ends probably had the best game of the season on Monday night. Bucs second-year TE Will Heller came up with a couple of big catches, including a 1-yard touchdown grab that came off a play-action pass from QB Brian Griese in the third quarter. Heller also had a nice reception in the first quarter and made a great effort to try and get the ball in the end zone, but he fell just short of the goal line. That helped set up FB Mike Alstott’s 1-yard touchdown run. Heller finished the game with three catches for 21 yards and did a solid job blocking.
Ken Dilger caught four passes for 30 yards, including a 15-yard reception. Dilger came up huge in the in the third quarter when he hauled in a nice touch pass from Griese, who was under tremendous pressure on the play, which was a naked bootleg, for a first down. That play kept the drive alive and eventually led to Heller’s touchdown.
Despite not having a running game, Tampa Bay’s offensive line provided QB Brian Griese with adequate time to throw out of the pocket on Monday night. The O-line, which featured a new starter — Kenyatta Walker in place of right tackle Todd Steussie — didn’t start allowing Griese to get pressured until late in the game when the Bucs trailed and the Rams knew they had to throw the ball.
This unit made some mistakes, though. The Bucs offensive line failed to open up holes in the running game, and center John Wade’s premature snap near the Bucs’ own goal line in the second quarter resulted in a fumble and gave the Rams the ball on Tampa Bay’s 5-yard line. That turnover eventually led to a touchdown, which tied the game at 14.
Left tackle Derrick Deese and Walker were each flagged for false start penalties. Walker also allowed Rams defensive end Leonard Little to get by him and force Griese out of the pocket on a third-and-18 play in the fourth quarter, which resulted in Griese throwing a pick in the end zone. Other than that play and the penalty, Walker did a nice job in place of Steussie.
Tampa Bay’s front four knew it had to get pressure on St. Louis QB Marc Bulger to have a shot of winning Monday night’s game. Bucs left defensive end Greg Spires apparently got that message loud and clear. Spires came up with some huge quarterback pressures and sacked Bulger twice. Both of Spires’ sacks came on third down plays, and his second quarterback takedown, which came in the third quarter, caused Bulger to fumble on the Rams’ 20-yard line. Bucs defensive tackle Anthony McFarland recovered the ball, and that turnover setup QB Brian Griese’s touchdown pass to TE Will Heller. Spires finished the game with five tackles and two sacks.
McFarland and Co. did a fairly nice job of limiting St. Louis’ production via the ground game. McFarland recorded three tackles and one sack, which came in the first quarter on a third down play.
Right end Simeon Rice also recorded a sack and finished the game with three tackles. Although he notched a quarterback takedown, Rice was caught overpursuing running plays a few times and didn’t get much pressure on Bulger the rest of the game. He was lined up against All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace.
Nose tackle Chartric Darby notched four tackles and played pretty well throughout the game.
*St. Louis rushed for 94 yards on 30 carries (3.1 avg.).
Tampa Bay weakside LB Derrick Brooks quietly led the team in tackles with 10. He played a big part in limiting St. Louis’ success, or lack thereof, on the ground.
Jeff Gooch started in place of middle LB Shelton Quarles (quad) and recorded nine tackles. After being involved in Rams WR Torry Holt’s 52-yard touchdown reception on the Rams’ first possession of the game, Gooch did a nice job against the run and of dropping back into coverage.
Strongside LB Ian Gold came up big in the third quarter when he intercepted Rams QB Marc Bulger and returned it 31 yards to St. Louis’ 15-yard line. However, Bucs RB Michael Pittman fumbled on the first play after that turnover, which resulted in a Rams fumble recovery and return for a touchdown. Gold had two tackles on Monday night.
*St. Louis converted 8-of-16 (50 percent) third down attempts against Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay’s defense struggled to contain St. Louis WR Torry Holt, who finished the game with six catches for 124 yards (20.7 avg.). Holt’s first reception came on the Rams’ first possession of the game when he beat Bucs MLB Jeff Gooch and S Jermaine Phillips for a 52-yard touchdown reception on a third-and-9 play. Holt beat the Bucs deep again in the fourth quarter when he raced by nickel cornerback Mario Edwards while Phillips came over late. That play resulted in a 36-yard score, which turned out to be the game-winning score. Phillips finished the game with four tackles.
Edwards recorded two tackles and missed a tackle on Holt in the first quarter, which resulted in a 15-yard gain. Edwards did, however, make a nice play to cause an incompletion on the very next play, and no significant damage was done after his missed tackle.
Safety Dwight Smith recorded two tackles.
Cornerback Brian Kelly had four tackles while CB Ronde Barber was held without a tackle. With the exception of Holt’s two touchdown catches, Tampa Bay’s secondary was pretty sound on Monday night.
*St. Louis QB Marc Bulger completed 18-of-30 passes (60 percent) for 264 yards and threw two touchdowns and one interception.
Kicker returner Torrie Cox was outstanding Monday. He returned four kickoffs for 159 yards (38.0 avg.). After St. Louis’ opening touchdown in the first quarter, Cox returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards to St. Louis’ 43-yard line. That great return put the Bucs offense in great position to execute what eventually turned out to be a touchdown-scoring drive. Cox started the second half by returning a kickoff 44 yards to the Rams’ 46-yard line, but the Bucs offense couldn’t do anything with the ball on that drive.
Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica missed two field goal attempts on Monday night, a 35- and 48-yarder. Gramatica’s first attempt would’ve put the Bucs up 17-7. His second attempt would’ve given the Bucs a 17-14 lead. Both kicks were wide to the left, and the second one wasn’t even close. Those two botched attempts ruined what were nice drives by Tampa Bay’s offense.
Punt returner Tim Brown was awful, allowing two punts to drop inside — and to be downed inside — Tampa Bay’s 10-yard line. One of those mistakes came in the second quarter when he allowed the ball to bounce inside the 10. The Rams downed it, and a few plays later, Bucs QB Brian Griese and C John Wade had a fumble at the QB-C exchange, which allowed the Rams to recover the ball and eventually score a touchdown. Brown fielded one punt and returned it 14 yards.
Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 43 yards on four attempts.
You can’t pin this loss on head coach Jon Gruden and/or his coaching staff. Gruden had his second straight solid outing as a playcaller. His players cost the team a win by fumbling the ball twice inside the red zone and by missing two field goal attempts.
Although the Rams scored 28 points on Monday night, only 14 should be attributed to the Bucs’ defense since two scores came off of Tampa Bay turnovers. The fumble during the quarterback-center exchange gave St. Louis the ball on Tampa Bay’s 5-yard line and it eventually led to a touchdown, and the Rams’ second touchdown came on RB Michael Pittman’s fumble and S Adam Archuleta’s 93-yard fumble return for a score.
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