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QUARTERBACKS:
Chris Simms had a short, but impressive debut as Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden used play-action passes and naked bootlegs to keep New Orleans’ defense off balance in the first quarter. This allowed Simms to have time to throw and complete 5-of-8 (62.5 percent) passes for 68 yards. Simms’ first completion of the game went to wide receiver Charles Lee for a 22-yard gain. He also connected with fullback Greg Comella for a 13-yard gain off of play action. Simms even hit rookie WR Michael Clayton for a 21-yard gain, but it was Clayton who failed to haul in a perfectly thrown ball in the corner of the end zone on third-and-goal play in the first quarter that led to the Bucs kicking a field goal to end their first offensive drive of the game. Towards the end of the first quarter, Bucs right tackle Todd Steussie failed to hold off Saints defensive end Darren Howard on a third down play. This mistake allowed Howard to sack Simms and cause a fumble, which gave the Saints the ball on the Bucs’ 45-yard line. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Not only did the Bucs lose the ball, but they also lost Simms to a left shoulder injury that is believed to be a pinched nerve He didn’t return.

Brian Griese, not Brad Johnson, served as Tampa Bay’s No. 2 signal caller against New Orleans. So when Simms went down, Griese came in. Like Simms, Griese’s first completion went to Lee, this time for a 17-yard gain. He also hit Clayton down the right seam of the field for a 18-yard gain. Those two pass plays led to a kicker Martin Gramatica field goal in the second quarter. Griese started the game completing 10 of his first 11 passes. In the third quarter, he sold the Saints defense on a play-action pass of his own and found tight end Ken Dilger wide open down the middle of the field, which led to a 45-yard touchdown pass, which put the Bucs up 20-7. Griese was outstanding on Sunday, completing 16-of-19 (84.2 percent) of his passes for 194 yards and one touchdown.

Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks completed 21-of-27 passes (77.7 percent) of their passes for 262 yards on Sunday.

*Tampa Bay converted 7-of-14 (50 percent) of its third down attempts against New Orleans.

GRADE: A


RUNNING BACKS:
Tampa Bay’s ground game wasn’t great, but it was good enough to make New Orleans’ defense respect the Bucs quarterbacks’ play-action plays.

Bucs tailback Michael Pittman rushed 15 times for 51 yards (3.4 avg.). His longest run of the game was a 10-yarder. While Pittman wasn’t spectacular, he came up big in the fourth quarter when the Bucs were trying to run the clock out with a three-point lead. First, Pittman hauled in a pass on a crossing-type route on a third-and-5 play, which gave the Bucs a first down. Then, Pittman had a nice run that picked up another first down, which was good enough to run the rest of the clock out. In addition to his production as a runner and receiver, Pittman was solid in the backfield on blitz pick up.

Fullback Mike Alstott rushed four times for 8 yards (2.o avg.). He picked up a key first down in the game against the Saints, which kept a Bucs drive alive. Alstott also hauled in two passes for 7 yards.

Fullback Greg Comella served as the lead blocker on Sunday. He did a decent job and even got involved in the passing game by catching a pass from QB Chris Simms and rumbling up field for a 13-yard gain in the first quarter.

*Tampa Bay rushed 26 times for 81 yards (3.1 avg.) on Sunday.

GRADE: B


WIDE RECEIVERS:
Tampa Bay’s wide receivers came up huge against New Orleans and were a big reason why the Bucs produced 319 yards of total offense.

Bucs rookie WR Michael Clayton came up with some clutch catches, including a 21-yarder from QB Chris Simms in the first quarter and a 16-yarder from QB Brian Griese on a third-and-12 play in the third quarter, which kept the drive alive and allowed Griese to connect with TE Ken Dilger on the 45-yard touchdown pass a few plays later. Clayton also came up with a third down catch in the fourth quarter, which produced another first down. He even got involved in the running game by taking an inside handoff from Simms in the first quarter and gaining 15 yards on a third-and-7 play. His second run came in the third quarter on an end around, which went for 9 yards. Clayton finished the game with two runs for 24 yards. Clayton’s only mistake of the game came on the first drive when he failed to haul in a perfectly thrown ball from Simms in the corner of the end zone on third-and-goal. Clayton got both hands on the ball and appeared to catch it, but the play was ruled incomplete and a review showed that he didn’t get both feet in bounds before the ball came out of his hands. Clayton had a solid game, catching four passes for 61 yards.

Charles Lee started at the split-end (X) position and made the most of it by catching four passes for 76 yards. After failing to get both feet in bounds on Simms’ first pass of the game, Lee blew up in the first quarter by hauling in a 22-yarder from Simms. In the third quarter, Lee made a great adjustment for a ball thrown by Griese, which put him in position to catch the pass for a 28-yard gain. That play put the Bucs in field goal range.

GRADE: B+


TIGHT ENDS:
Tampa Bay tight end Ken Dilger had his best game of the season, hauling in a 45-yard touchdown pass from QB Brian Griese and throwing some nice blocks, including one on FB Greg Comella’s 13-yard reception in the first quarter. Dilger finished the game with three catches for 60 yards.

Second-year TE Will Heller struggled. He dropped a pass and was flagged for two false starts on Sunday. He did, however, catch an 11-yard pass, which went for a first down.

GRADE: B-


OFFENSIVE LINE:
As usual, Tampa Bay’s offensive line was inconsistent on Sunday, but some mistakes were much more costly than others.

Bucs right tackle Todd Steussie, who has struggled all season long, allowed Saints rookie defensive end Will Smith, who normally plays right end but lined up at left end for this particular play, to get around him and sack QB Chris Simms on a third down play in the first quarter. Not only did Simms get sacked and fumble the ball, but he was injured (left shoulder) on the play and didn’t return. As it turns out, neither did Steussie, who was benched in favor of T Kenyatta Walker.

Walker was matched up against Darren Howard for most of the game. Howard, who had notched five sacks coming into this contest, got by Walker and stripped QB Brian Griese of the ball in the fourth quarter. Luckily for Walker, Griese was able to recover. Saints DE Charles Grant also lined up against Walker and recorded two sacks, but one of those quarterback takedowns can be pinned on Griese as he broke contain and should’ve thrown the ball away.

If Matt O’Dwyer (pectoral tear) is healthy after Week 6, Bucs left guard Matt Stinchcomb’s starting job could be in jeopardy. Stinchcomb struggled against the Saints and was even called for holding in the fourth quarter. Stinchcomb hasn’t been impressive at all this season.

Bucs left tackle Derrick Deese was flagged for a false start in the first quarter.

Tampa Bay allowed four sacks on Sunday, but Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s playcalling, which included a nice mix of some play-action passes and naked bootlegs, actually bought quarterbacks Chris Simms and Brian Griese plenty of time to throw.

GRADE: C


DEFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay’s defensive line was held without a sack for the second consecutive week, but New Orleans left tackle Wayne Gandy was flagged four times — twice for false starts and twice for holding. Gandy was charged with keeping Bucs right defensive end Simeon Rice off of quarterback Aaron Brooks. Rice finished the game with one tackle.

Bucs left DE Greg Spires had a huge game, forcing Saints tailback Deuce McAllister to fumble in the second quarter, which allowed cornerback Ronde Barber to recover and return the ball 18 yards for a touchdown. In the third quarter on a third-and-goal play for the Saints, Spires did a nice job of not biting on a play-action rollout to the right and got a hand on QB Aaron Brooks’ pass to a wide open receiver in the end zone. That play broke up the pass and forced the Saints to attempt a field goal. Spires led all defensive linemen with two tackles.

Defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chartric Darby struggled to contain McAllister on a consistent basis. Most of McAllister’s big runs came in the second half and went right up the gut of Tampa Bay’s defense. McFarland and Darby each finished the game with one tackle.

*Saints RB Deuce McAllister rushed 21 times for 102 yards (4.9 avg.). New Orleans rushed 29 times for 145 yards (5.0 avg.).

GRADE: C


LINEBACKERS:
Bucs starting middle linebacker Shelton Quarles left the game in the first quarter with some type of injury. The injury might have occurred on New Orleans’ first drive of the game when Quarles got beat deep downfield on a play-action pass play to wide receiver Joe Horn. While Horn dropped the pass, Quarles appeared to land awkwardly on his arm. Backup LB Jeff Gooch took Quarles’ place in the starting lineup and led the team in tackles with nine. Gooch struggled at times in run defense, which would help explain RB Deuce McAllister’s success up the gut of Tampa Bay’s defense.

Weakside LB Derrick Brooks finished the game with eight tackles. He was flagged for a taunting in the fourth quarter, but that penalty was offset by WR Joe Horn’s same type of infraction.

Strongside LB Ian Gold was very active in this contest and notched four tackles, including a big stop on Saints QB Aaron Brooks’ scramble that Gold stopped short of the first down marker in the second quarter.

*The Saints produced just 251 yards of total offense against the Bucs.

GRADE: B


SECONDARY:
Tampa Bay cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly came up huge for the Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon.

In the second quarter, Bucs DE Greg Spires forced RB Deuce McAllister to fumble, which allowed Barber to pick the ball up and return it 18 yards for a touchdown, which put the Pewter Pirates up 13-7.

Kelly’s big play came in the fourth quarter when QB Aaron Brooks attempted to hit tight end Boo Williams down the left seam of the field. Kelly made a miraculous play on the ball to intercept it, which killed the Saints’ momentum and gave the Bucs’ offense the ball back. Kelly also added three tackles and two impressive pass breakups on Sunday.

Nickel CB Mario Edwards came up with a big pass breakup on third down in the third quarter, but he missed a tackle on Saints WR Donte Stallworth, which allowed the speedy receiver to 27 yards and get the ball deep inside Bucs’ territory.

Safety Jermaine Phillips recorded three tackles and made the touchdown-saving tackle on RB Aaron Stecker’s 23-yard run in the second half.

Bucs S Dwight Smith recorded seven tackles against the Saints, but he had trouble stopping McAllister, especially when the big back penetrated Tampa Bay’s secondary. However, Smith also forced McAllister to fumble in the second quarter while bringing him down, but the Bucs couldn’t recover. Smith was also caught out of position on Williams’ 17-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter and had coverage on WR Joe Horn’s 3-yard TD grab in the fourth quarter.

*Tampa Bay only allowed New Orleans QB Aaron Brooks to complete 11-of-23 passes for 106 yards. The Saints were only able to convert 4-of-11 (36 percent) of their third down attempts against the Bucs.

GRADE: A-


SPECIAL TEAMS:
Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica was 2-of-3 on field goal attempts against New Orleans. He drilled a 23-yarder in the first quarter and a 53-yarder in the second quarter. Gramatica’s miss came from 44 yards out in the third quarter. The Saints would drive down the field and score a touchdown after that miss.

Punter Josh Bidwell punted three times and averaged 46.3 yards per attempt.

Bucs cornerback Torrie Cox handled kickoffs for the Bucs and came up big in the fourth quarter when he returned the Saints’ kickoff 42 yards to Tampa Bay’s 45-yard line with just over three minutes remaining in the game. Cox averaged 27 yards per kickoff return on Sunday.

Punt returner Tim Brown was ineffective. He returned one punt for five yards.

Cornerback Mario Edwards was flagged for an illegal block in the back in the second quarter, and CB Corey Ivy was flagged for taunting in the second quarter after Tampa Bay’s kickoff coverage unit stopped Saints return specialist Michael Lewis on his own 8-yard line. Perhaps the biggest bonehead play of the game can go to DE Dewayne White, who was flagged for illegal leverage on New Orleans’ 25-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. That penalty erased three points off the board and gave the Saints a fresh set of downs. They eventually scored a touchdown, which cut the Bucs’ lead to 20-14.

Other than those three penalties, Tampa Bay’s kickoff coverage and return units were outstanding. Lewis averaged just 12.3 yards per kickoff return and 8.3 yards per punt return.

GRADE: B-


COACHING:
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden did a great job in terms of playcalling on Sunday. He called three consecutive running plays to start the game, and although the running plays didn’t produce huge gains, they forced the Saints defense to respect the run, which allowed quarterbacks Chris Simms and Brian Griese to run play-action and naked bootlegs effectively. While Gruden’s playbook opened up with both of those strong-armed, mobile signal callers in the lineup, it was their ability to throw the ball downfield that kept the Saints defense honest on Sunday.

Gruden’s Bucs were penalized 11 times for 65 yards on Sunday, which is entirely too much. Some of the penalties were simply inexcusable and Gruden needs to address this before old habits become common practice.

Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia’s troops did one heckuva job containing Saints return specialist Michael Lewis by making it difficult for the speedy return man to field the ball.

GRADE: B+
This story is intended to be read only by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on PewterReport.com. Buccaneers merchandise in the world.


This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on PewterReport.com. Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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