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Tampa Bay quarterback Brian Griese started the game completing nine of his first 10 passes and went 15-of-19 for 140 yards in the first half, but his high completion percentage only led to one scoring drive in the first half. Griese got off to a rough start on the first offensive play of the game when he fell down while attempting a bootleg. That mishap allowed Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers to sack Griese for an 11-yard loss. On the next series, Griese’s pass, which was intended for rookie WR Michael Clayton, was intercepted by Panthers safety Colin Branch. But on the Bucs’ third offensive drive, Griese rebounded by completing 6-of-6 pass attempts en route to a 55-yard, six-play scoring drive that was capped off when Griese completed a third down pass to rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton for a 22-yard score.
In the third quarter, Griese connected with Clayton again in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard score. That made the score 24-14 in favor of the Panthers. In the third quarter with the Bucs driving down the field again, Griese dropped back to hand the ball off to RB Michael Pittman but never got the ball off cleanly, which resulted Panthers defender Al Wallace recovering the ball at the Panthers’ 49-yard line. Griese engineered an impressive scoring drive in the fourth quarter. He capped it off by connecting with WR Joey Galloway in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard score. However, Griese’s pass attempt to Galloway on the 2-point conversion attempt missed. Griese had a bit of a meltdown late in the fourth quarter when he dropped back to pass and tossed an interception to Panthers defensive tackle Kindal Moorehead, who returned the pick 44 yards for a touchdown, which put the Panthers ahead 37-20. On the next series, Griese threw a high pass to Clayton, who tipped the ball up in the air and into the hands of a Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble. However, a replay showed that Gamble didn’t possess the ball, which gave Griese a break. Overall, Griese completed 30 of 41 passes and threw for 321 yards and tossed three touchdowns, two interceptions and lost a fumble. His completion percentage was impressive, but his turnovers were too costly.
*Tampa Bay converted 3 of 7 (43 percent) of its third down tries.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden didn’t give the running game much of a chance to succeed in the first half. Bucs running back Michael Pittman and fullback Mike Alstott carried the ball a total of just five times for 13 yards through the first two quarters.
Pittman finished the game with 10 carries for 41 yards (4.1 avg.), but most of his touches came toward the end of the game when the Bucs were simply trying to run the clock out. Pittman also caught three passes for 13 yards.
Alstott’s first and only carry of the game came with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter. It turned out to be a huge carry, though. It picked up a first down on third-and-1. He also hauled in a pass in the flat for a 17-yard gain with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. Alstott hauled in a pass and bulled his way 20 yards upfield in the third quarter. That played got the Bucs away from their own end zone. He finished the game with three catches for 37 yards.
*Tampa Bay rushed 13 times for 46 yards (3.5 avg.).
Tampa Bay’s wide receivers were very active on Sunday.
Rookie WR Michael Clayton hauled in two passes for 39 yards in the first half. His second reception came in the first quarter on a third-and-4 play. Clayton took advantage of coverage cleared out by his fellow receivers and hauled in a pass on a crossing route and raced 22 yards upfield for a touchdown, which tied the game at 7-7. Clayton did a nice job of leaping and muscling his way into the end zone on that play. Clayton dropped a pass toward the end of the first half that would’ve put the Bucs in great field goal range, but right tackle Kenyatta Walker’s holding penalty on the same play negated the drop and proved to be even more costly. In the third quarter, Griese connected with Clayton again for a 6-yard score, which made the score 24-14. Clayton did a great job of coming back to the scrambling Griese. Clayton came up with a big grab across the middle of the field midway through the fourth quarter. That catch helped to set up WR Joey Galloway’s 14-yard touchdown reception, which made the score 30-20. Clayton finished the game with four catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
Joey Galloway hauled in five passes for 40 yards. His longest reception was an 11-yarder. He also drew a pass interference penalty toward the end of the first half. Galloway’s 20-yard reception in the third quarter helped to set up Clayton’s second TD grab. Galloway came up huge in the fourth quarter when he hauled in a 14-yard pass from Griese in the end zone for a touchdown, which made the score 30-20. Galloway finished the game with nine receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown.
Joe Jurevicius caught four passes for 31 yards. His 10-yard reception was good enough for a first down in the first half. His spectacular sideline grab in the fourth quarter was negated by center Sean Mahan’s penalty, but he came up with a huge grab on the very next play. Jurevicius caught six passes for 66 yards on Sunday.
Bucs tight end Ken Dilger had a rough day. He dropped a couple of passes, including one where he got wide open across the middle of the field with time running out in the first half, but he couldn’t hold onto the pass, which was thrown a little high and hard by QB Brian Griese. Dilger’s illegal block in the back negated Dave Moore’s big reception in the third quarter. Neither Dilger nor Moore were able to help open holes for the running game. Dilger finished the game with three catches for 33 yards. Moore caught one pass for 10 yards.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line had a tall order Sunday. With no effort to establish the ground game, this unit was called on to protect QB Brian Griese on 45 of the team’s 56 plays. The weren’t able to do that, though. Griese was sacked twice, although the first takedown was his own fault. He was also pressured too often.
Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker was flagged for holding toward the end of the first half. That penalty knocked the Bucs out of field goal range. Walker was also called for holding late in the fourth quarter.
Center Sean Mahan’s penalty for being an illegible man downfield negated WR Joe Jurevicius’ spectacular sideline grab in the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay’s defensive line did a nice job of limiting Carolina’s ground game in the first half, but it didn’t sustain enough pressure on QB Jake Delhomme. In the second quarter, Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice got to Delhomme with a great pass rush but failed to bring him down, which allowed the elusive quarterback to hit Nick Goings for a big gain, which put the Panthers on the Bucs’ 11-yard line. Rice finished the game with no tackles and no sacks.
Greg Spires started at under tackle for the second straight game. He faced a plethora of double teams but still managed to sack Delhomme in the second quarter. He recorded two tackles and one sack on Sunday.
Nose tackle Chartric Darby’s offsides penalty in the second half negated the fumble caused by safety Dwight Smith. Darby recorded three tackles against the Panthers.
Left defensive end Dewayne White notched four tackles, which led all Bucs defensive linemen.
This unit failed to halt Carolina’s ground attack in the second half. Too many missed tackles, especially along the perimeter, led to Goings producing 127 rushing yards on 33 carries (3.8 avg.).
Tampa Bay’s linebackers were also guilty of too many missed tackles.
Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks had a very active first half, especially against the Panthers’ ground game. Brooks notched six tackles in the first half. Brooks recorded a team-leading 14 tackles and one pass defensed on Sunday.
Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles appeared to be late coming over to cover the middle of the end zone on WR Mushin Muhammad’s second touchdown grab in the second quarter. Quarles quietly recorded 10 tackles.
Strongside LB Ian Gold finished the game with five tackles.
*Carolina’s offense, which ranked 16th overall heading into Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, produced 348 yards against the NFL’s 4th-ranked defense.
Tampa Bay’s inability to produce a consistent pass rush on Carolina QB Jake Delhomme allowed the Panthers quarterback to complete 13 of 15 passes for 140 yards in the first half and 19 of 24 passes for 214 yards on the day. Delhomme completed two touchdown passes to WR Mushin Muhammad in the first half, which helped get the Panthers a 17-7 lead at halftime. In the second half, Delhomme tossed two more touchdown passes, giving him a total of four on the day.
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly allowed Muhammad to haul in the first TD grab, but Muhammad deserves a lot of credit for a spectacular one-handed grab. Kelly later made a great pass breakup on a deep ball thrown by Delhomme. Kelly recorded two tackles and one pass defensed on Sunday.
Bucs CB Ronde Barber and middle linebacker Shelton Quarles appeared to be late coming over to the middle of the field to cover Muhammad’s second touchdown reception. Barber allowed WR Keary Colbert to haul in a fade pass from Delhomme in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter, which put the Panthers up 24-7. Barber has seen better days as a defender but still managed to record 10 tackles.
Muhammad caught a team-leading eight passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
Safety Dwight Smith was active in terms of causing turnovers. Unfortunately for Smith, the Bucs couldn’t capitalize on either opportunity. Smith’s first caused fumble came in the first quarter when he stripped Muhammad of the ball, which practically fell into S John Howell’s hands. But Howell bobbled the ball right back to Muhammad, who recovered it. In the second quarter, Smith forced Panthers FB Brad Hoover to fumble, but DT Chartric Darby’s offsides penalty negated the turnover. Smith made a nice pass breakup on Muhammad on another fade pass into the corner of the end zone on second-and-2 in the fourth quarter. Smith was extremely active against the run and finished the game with 11 tackles, which was the second most on the team.
Bucs S John Howell recorded six tackles on Sunday. Bucs backup S Dexter Jackson was flagged for illegal contact in the fourth quarter. He recorded just one tackle.
*Carolina converted 7 of 12 (58 percent) third down attempts against Tampa Bay.
Bucs punter Josh Bidwell had a punt blocked toward the end of the first half after he dropped the snap from Dave Moore. The Panthers recovered the ball at the Bucs’ 46-yard line. Three offensive plays later, Panthers kicker John Kasay drilled a 26-yard field goal attempt, which made the score 17-7 at halftime. Bidwell averaged 44 yards per punt on three attempts.
Tampa Bay’s coverage units were special on Sunday. They allowed the Panthers to produce 27- and 36-yard kickoff returns.
Bucs cornerback Torrie Cox broke off a 48-yard kickoff return in the third quarter. Cox averaged 22.2 yards per attempt.
Carolina is a blitz-happy team on defense. That was Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden’s explanation when asked why the Bucs only rushed the ball a total of 11 times on Sunday. While one can understand the fact that Gruden’s offense is pass oriented, 11 rushes simply doesn’t cut it, especially vs. a Panthers defense that ranked 19th against the run heading into this contest. The only person to blame for Tampa Bay’s lack of touches via the ground game is Gruden. The Bucs were also called for 10 penalties for 77 yards, which is entirely too many.
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has to get his unit’s woes fixed in a hurry. This unit gave up 37 points to the Panthers and allowed quarterback Jake Delhomme to practically play untouched and toss four touchdown passes. This unit has a lot of holes that need to be filled during the offseason, but in the meantime, Kiffin must tweak his game plans.
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