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QUARTERBACKS:
Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks performed quite well on Monday night, completing 22 of 29 (75.8 percent) of their pass attempts for 255 yards. While they didn’t throw any interceptions, the quarterbacks didn’t throw any touchdown passes, either. However, Brad Johnson, Chris Simms and Brian Griese each led the offense on scoring drives.

Johnson played for just one series but made the best of it, completing all three of his pass attempts for 49 yards. Johnson’s best pass came when he threw a deep ball down the right sideline to wide receiver Bill Schroeder, who hauled it in for a 32-yard gain. A few plays later, Johnson did a nice job of avoiding a sack on a play-action pass by dodging the defender in the backfield and scrambling up the gut of the defense for a 5-yard gain. Johnson led the Bucs on a 61-yard drive, which was capped off by a 19-yard field goal by kicker Martin Gramatica.

Simms entered the game on the second offensive series, but you wouldn’t have known he was a backup since all of the Bucs starters for Monday night’s game remained in the lineup when he came in. The second-year player had a good command of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s offense and displayed a strong and accurate arm, and some mobility when moving around and outside of the pocket. He completed his first seven pass attempts and was 12 of 15 (80 percent) on the night for 110 yards.

Simms, who for the most part had a comfortable pocket to throw out of, connected with rookie WR Michael Clayton early and often. His first completion went to Clayton for a 13-yard gain. On a third-and-2 play, Simms did a nice job of selling the play-action pass, rolled out to his left and hit Clayton in the flat for a 12-yard gain. Simms’ completions to Clayton led to a 46-yard field goal by Gramatica. He also led offense to a touchdown in the second quarter after the Bengals fumbled the ball in their own territory.

After completing 10 of 12 pass attempts in the first half, Simms seemed to have a hard time getting into a rhythm to start the third quarter. He nearly got picked off on a pass intended for WR Mark Jones on one play and fumbled a snap from center Sean Mahan on another. Overall, Simms, who saw more playing time than Johnson and Griese on Monday night, was the most impressive signal caller.

Griese relieved Simms later in the third quarter, and he got off to a rough start. In fact, Griese was nearly intercepted on his first two pass attempts. But after a few series, Griese started to get into a groove, hitting WR Frank Murphy on a slant and delivering a perfect swing pass to running back Earnest Graham, who caught the ball and sprinted upfield for a 22-yard gain. Griese’s next pass went back to Murphy, this time for a 24-yard gain across the middle of the field. On the same drive, Griese was faced with a third-and-1 situation near Cincinnati’s goal line, but the signal caller took a bootleg play call and picked up the first down with his feet. This 80-yard drive was capped off by Graham’s second touchdown run of the game, which gave the Bucs a 20-6 lead. Griese completed 7 of 11 pass attempts for 96 yards.

Fourth-stringer Jason Garrett dressed but didn’t play.

*The Bucs converted 5 of 11 (45 percent) third down attempts against the Bengals on Monday night.

GRADE: A-


RUNNING BACKS:
Tampa Bay’s running game, which was without starting tailback Charlie Garner (hamstring), wasn’t that impressive, but it was effective in goal line situations, where backup RB Earnest Graham scored the team’s only two touchdowns of the game.

Graham had the best night of all of the backs by rushing for 15 yards on seven carries (2.1 avg.) and catching three passes for 34 yards, including a 22-yarder from QB Brian Griese on a swing pass. Although his numbers are by no means astounding, Graham showed the ability to run with authority and power, and he displayed soft hands in the passing game. Of course, his two touchdown runs, both of which came in goal line situations, packed a punch, too. Graham is still a long shot to make the team, but he certainly opened some eyes on Monday night.

Tailback Jamel White fared well in the ground game, evidenced by his 27 rushing yards on five carries (5.4 avg.). White showed good acceleration and speed around the corner and good start-and-stop ability. His longest run of the game, a 13-yarder that came on a counter, put the Bucs offense on the 2-yard line in the second quarter.

Fullback Mike Alstott got the opportunity to test his neck right away. He received the ball on the first two offensive plays of the game, both of which were runs. While the “A-Train’s” surgically-repaired neck held up fine with physical contact, he was ineffective as a runner, carrying the ball four times for just two yards.

Fullback Greg Comella, who had a strong training camp, took a major step backward on Monday night. He missed a blocking assignment on a running play and was flagged for a leg whip in the second quarter. And in the third quarter, Comella’s illegal block to the back negated punt returner Mark Jones’ great return to Cincinnati’s 20-yard line. Needless to say, Comella has seen better games.

Bucs RB Michael Pittman carried the ball three times for 10 yards and caught one pass for eight yards. Pittman likely received limited touches because of his upcoming three-game suspension.

Brandon Bennett didn’t touch the ball much but was pretty impressive when he did. He carried the ball four times for 19 yards (4.8 avg.). HIs longest run, a 12-yarder down the right sideline, put the Bucs in position to score their second touchdown of the game. Actually, he followed that 12-yard run up with a 5-yard score of his own, but an illegal formation penalty negated it, which is why Graham eventually scored his second touchdown of the game.

Bucs fullback Jameel Cook, who didn’t see action until the second half, caught two passes for 19 yards, including a 11-yarder. None of Tampa Bay’s fullbacks were very effective as lead-blockers Monday night.

*Tampa Bay rushed 28 times for 90 yards (3.2 avg.) and two touchdowns against Cincinnati.

GRADE: C+


WIDE RECEIVERS:
Tampa Bay introduced Tim Brown, Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton as its starting receivers on Monday night, but only Clayton saw significant playing time. In fact, Clayton was quite impressive in his debut, catching three passes for 39 yards. The first-round pick’s most impressive play came in the second quarter when he did a nice job of selling a block on the edge of the line of scrimmage and smoothly released and worked his way into the flat to get open for QB Chris Simms to easily connect with him for a 14-yard gain and a first down. He also did a nice job of blocking downfield on a few plays. All three of Clayton’s receptions came from Simms.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden mixed the receivers in with the starters. Bill Schroeder, who didn’t necessarily receive a lot of playing time, made a couple of splash plays while he was on the grass. His first reception came when he ran a slant into traffic and hauled in a pass from QB Brad Johnson for a first down on third-and-8. That play set up Schroeder’s 32-yard pass play deep downfield in one-on-one coverage. He finished the game with two catches for 41 yards. Don’t look now, but if he continues to impress, Schroeder’s abilities as both a receiver and as a special teams contributor, could make a player like WR Charles Lee, who has been sidelined with a serious hamstring injury and has not shown a great desire to play on special teams, expendable.

Receiver Edell Shepherd lined up with the starters on a few plays as well. On the second offensive series of the game, Clayton and Shepherd were the starting receivers. But at the beginning of the second quarter, Shepherd apparently broke his foot while trying to catch a pass from Simms in the end zone. That injury sidelined Shepherd for the remainder of the game and will likely keep him on the sideline for several weeks if not the entire season. He might not have a household name, but Edell Shepherd, who is regarded as a strong route runner, had a strong offseason and training camp and was poised to make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster before he got hurt. Shepherd caught one pass for four yards.

If a roster spot opens because of Shepherd’s injury, WR Frank Murphy could take advantage of it. Murphy had a strong showing on Monday night, catching three passes for 47 yards (15.7 avg.), including a 24-yarder from Griese. He also caught a pass in-between three defenders for a 12-yard gain, which gave the Bucs a first down. Not only did Murphy catch some passes, but he showed what he can do as a blocker by taking out a defender on rookie WR Mark Jones’ reverse play, which went for an 8-yard gain. In addition to his three grabs and impressive block, Murphy drew a pass interference call while diving for a pass in the second half. Had he not been interfered with, Murphy might have caught his fourth pass of the game. Murphy is still a raw talent, but he showed more controlled route running than ever before. However, he did drop a pass from Griese in this game.

Jones’ only catch of the game came after he ran a smash route and got open for a 12-yard gain on a pass thrown by Griese. Jones also gained eight yards on a reverse in the second half.

Receiver Marcus Knight didn’t help his chances of making the team after his pass interference penalty negated Simms’ screen pass to RB Jamel White, which went for a big gain. However, Knight did haul in a pass on the sideline for an 18-yard gain toward the end of the first half. He finished the game with two catches for 32 yards.

*Six of Tampa Bay’s receivers caught at least one pass on Monday night.

GRADE: B


TIGHT ENDS:
Tampa Bay’s tight ends had a quiet night, catching a total of just two passes for 12 yards. Second-year TE Will Heller caught both of those passes.

The tight ends, particularly rookie Nate Lawrie and Doug Zeigler, seemed to struggle in the running game. Dave Moore didn’t see action until the third quarter.

GRADE: C


OFFENSIVE LINE:
The Bucs’ revamped offensive line was missing a few key ingredients on Monday night. Starting left tackle Derrick Deese (foot) and starting right guard Matt Stinchcomb were both sidelined for the game vs. the Bengals. Tackle Anthony Davis and guard Jason Whittle started in their place, respectively.

Davis, who was flagged for being an ineligible man downfield in the first half, played into the third quarter and fared pretty well. He was part of a unit that provided the quarterbacks with plenty of time to throw but committed too many penalties in the process.

Cosey Coleman started at left guard in place of Kerry Jenkins (ankle), who did not play. Coleman played well, but he was called for too many penalties. In the second quarter, Coleman received a 15-yarder for clipping. On the same play, center John Wade was flagged for being an ineligible player downfield, but the Bengals declined that penalty and accepted Coleman’s instead. Then, Coleman was flagged for being an ineligible player downfield on a screen pass. In the fourth quarter, Coleman was once again flagged, this time for a false start. He played well into the third quarter, and all of his playing time came at left guard.

Right tackle Kenyatta Walker was flagged for holding on QB Chris Simms’ pass play at the end of the second quarter. That penalty put the Bucs in a third-and-15 situation and eventually forced them to punt.

On the bright side, Coleman and Walker made great blocks on the same play to spring RB Earnest Graham loose at the beginning of the third quarter. With the exception of those two run blocks, Tampa Bay’s offensive linemen struggled to open up a lot of holes and get a good push up front in the running game.

In an interesting note, guards Whittle and Sean Mahan, not second-year C Austin King, saw significant playing time at center on Monday night. Whittle took over for Wade on the third offensive series and Mahan took over for Whittle at the start of the third quarter.

Rookie Jeb Terry saw action at right guard on Monday night and performed well. He made a couple of great blocks, including one on RB Earnest Graham’s touchdown run.

*Tampa Bay didn’t allow a sack against Cincinnati.

GRADE: B-


DEFENSIVE LINE:
Although he wasn’t listed as injured, left defensive end Greg Spires didn’t start against the Bengals on Monday night. Instead, second-year DE Dewayne White, who is pushing Spires for the starting job, took his place and saw extensive action. On Cincinnati’s first offensive series, White nearly intercepted a swing pass from Bengals QB Carson Palmer. On Cincinnati’s third offensive series of the game, White forced a fumble, which allowed defensive tackle DeVone Claybrooks to recover. That turnover set up the Bucs up on the Bengals’ 19-yard line and led to running back Earnest Graham’s first touchdown. At the end of the second quarter, White got great penetration on Cincinnati’s backfield and nearly sacked QB Jon Kitna. That quarterback pressure forced Kitna to throw a bad pass that should have been intercepted by safety John Howell, but he dropped it. White, who played at left end through most of the third quarter, was impressive. He finished the game with one tackle, one pass defensed and one forced fumble.

Tampa Bay right DE Simeon Rice combined with safety Jermaine Phillips to sack Palmer on the Bengals’ second offensive series of the game. Rice also nearly got a sack on Palmer again on a third-and-6 passing play. Rice’s QB pressure caused the incompletion and forced the Bengals to kick a 36-yard field goal. Rice had two tackles and a half sack on the night.

Starting nose tackle Chartric Darby also got some pressure on Palmer, but he and Tampa Bay’s defense struggled to defend Cincinnati starting tailback Rudi Johnson, who came up with some big gains via the ground game in the first quarter. Darby finished the game with one tackle.

Like most of his fellow linemates, Bucs starting under tackle Anthony McFarland came very close to sacking Palmer on the second offensive series of the game. He also nearly picked off Palmer’s pass on another pressure by Rice. McFarland faced several double teams, which might explain why he had no tackles.

Rookie DE Josh Savage might have been the most surprising player on defense. He displayed a high motor and a knack for getting after the quarterback by coming up with two sacks on Monday night. One of his sacks took the Bengals out of field goal range and forced them to punt.

Reinard Wilson replaced Rice at right end. He was flagged for a personal foul, helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter, which gave the Bengals a first down. He finished the game by coming up with a sack.

Claybrooks notched two tackles and a sack on Monday night.

*Tampa Bay recorded five sacks on Monday night.

GRADE: B


LINEBACKERS:
Much of Tampa Bay’s struggles to halt Cincinnati’s ground attack at the beginning of the game were due to some mistakes made by the linebackers, not the defensive linemen. The Bucs were without starting weakside LB Derrick Brooks (knee), starting middle LB Shelton Quarles (wrist) and backup MLB Jeff Gooch (shin splint).

Keith Burns started at “Mike” linebacker for the Bucs. He appeared to be out of position on a few of Rudi Johnson’s big running plays in the first quarter, but he made some nice plays, too, including a great tackle on an outside run by Johnson on the second series. Burns finished the game with three tackles.

Starting strongside LB Ian Gold saw limited action and missed a tackle on Johnson on the play where Burns and CB Brian Kelly combined for the stop near the sideline.

Backup linebackers Marquis Cooper and Dustin Cohen saw their first action on defense in the third quarter. Cooper fared quite well, notching three tackles and being in position to make a play if needed on several others. Cohen also had three tackles.

Although he recorded three tackles, LB Ryan Nece had a quiet game and was flagged for being offsides on one play in the fourth quarter.

Backup LB Michael Brown, who started in place of Brooks, notched two tackles, one of which came in the fourth quarter when he wrapped up the running back in the backfield for a loss.

* Tampa Bay allowed Cincinnati to rush for 84 yards on 22 carries (3.8 avg.).

GRADE: C+


SECONDARY:
Tampa Bay’s safeties turned in some of the better performances on Monday night.

Jermaine Phillips, who is replacing five-time Pro Bowler John Lynch in the Bucs secondary, was all over the field and made some nice plays against the Bengals. Philips combined with DE Simeon Rice for a sack on QB Carson Palmer in the first half. He also made a solid tackle near the line of scrimmage on RB Rudi Johnson on the Bengals’ first offensive series of the game. Phillips finished the game with four tackles and a half a sack.

Although he was impressive against the run, too, S Dwight Smith bit on a play-action pass in the first quarter that allowed Bengals WR Kelly Washington to get open for a 42-yard gain. Smith had two tackles on Monday night.

Backup safeties John Howell and Scott Frost really impressed with their play on Monday night. Howell came up with several big plays, including a huge stop at the line of scrimmage on a third-and-1 play, which forced the Bengals to punt. Howell also put himself in position to intercept a QB Jon Kitna pass, but he was looking toward the end zone before he secured the ball, which resulted in an incompletion. Howell finished the game with three tackles.

Frost showed a similar nose for the football and has really come a long way since joining the Bucs late last season. He notched two tackles and like Howell, is impressive on special teams.

Safety Kalvin Pearson, who didn’t see action on defense until late in the second half, made two impressive pass breakups in the fourth quarter, one of which came on Cincinnati’s last offensive drive. Pearson put some serious hits on receivers and isn’t afraid to mix it up against the running game, either. He finished the game with one tackle and two passes defensed.

Rookie S Will Allen, who didn’t have a great training camp, stepped up and made a couple of impressive plays on Monday night. He notched two tackles vs. the Bengals.

Tampa Bay’s starting cornerbacks — Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly — had great games. Barber stalled Cincinnati’s opening drive by picking off QB Carson Palmer’s pass in Tampa Bay territory.

Kelly notched three tackles, including one where he combined for a stop on RB Rudi Johnson near the sideline.

Cornerbacks Mario Edwards, Torrie Cox, Lenny Williams and Ronyell Whitaker each had so-so outings. Edwards got away with a mistake with 2:00 remaining in the second quarter after he bit on Kitna’s pump fake, which left WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh wide open in the end zone. But a poorly thrown ball by Kitna caused the receiver to go out of bounds before he could get both feet in for the score. Edwards had one tackle.

Cox was called for illegal contact downfield. He nearly made up for that play when he almost intercepted a pass from Kitna in the end zone. The ball was just out of Cox’s reach. Cox had one tackle on the night.

Williams allowed Washington to haul in a big pass in the second half and was called for pass interference in the fourth quarter, which led to head coach Jon Gruden’s unsportsmanlike penalty on the sideline for getting angry at the call. Williams did, however, make a nice tackle in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with one tackle.

Whitaker tied for the lead in tackles with four against the Bengals. He made a nice open-field tackle in the fourth quarter.

* Tampa Bay only allowed Cincinnati to complete 16 of 34 (47 percent) of its pass attempts for 173 yards.

GRADE: B+


SPECIAL TEAMS:
With the exception of a few costly penalties, Tampa Bay’s special teams played well.

Kicker Martin Gramatica nailed his first two field goal attempts (19, 46), but missed his last kick, a 43-yarder, in the third quarter.

Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 41 yards per punt on three attempts and even had a 50-yarder. He also did a nice job of holding on Gramatica’s attempts.

Safeties John Howell, Scott Frost, running back Brandon Bennett, cornerbacks Lenny Williams, linebacker Keith Burns and wide receiver Mark Jones each made a special teams tackle.

Cornerback Corey Ivy, who has been regarded as a special teams ace throughout his entire career, made a huge hit on punt returner Delta O’Neal, which caused a fumble, but the Bengals managed to recover.

Jones and Frank Murphy made nice impacts on the return game. Jones showed great speed and acceleration by returning a punt 55 yards and inside Cincinnati’s red zone, but an illegal block in the back penalty by fullback Greg Comella negated that great play. However, even after the penalty, Jones’ return was good for 19 yards and put the offense on their own 42-yard line.

Murphy, who has good speed and better upper body strength than Jones, came close to breaking a kickoff return for a touchdown in the second half, but he was stopped. Still, Murphy’s return went for a 36-yard gain.

Rookie tight end Nate Lawrie was flagged for holding on running back Brandon Bennett’s kickoff return, which produced just 13 yards after the penalty was enforced.

Ivy, Comella, Frost, Bennett, cornerback Torrie Cox, defensive end Corey Smith, Murphy, Howell, Jones and cornerback Mario Edwards lined up with Gramatica as members of the first-team kickoff coverage unit.

GRADE: B


COACHING:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s team killed itself with penalties, committing 14 of them for 128 yards vs. the Bengals.

While he’ll need to get that problem fixed right away, Gruden did a nice job of calling plays, including some well-designed draw plays, under the circumstances, which included tough down-and-distance situations. Gruden’s playcalling was also favorable for the quarterbacks to get into a rhythm and played a big part in Tampa Bay’s ability to produce 345 yards of total offense.

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was throw near the end of the game after Gruden erupted on the sideline in reaction to a pass interference penalty that was called on cornerback Lenny Williams. Gruden obviously didn’t agree with the call, but it looks like his emotions cost the team 15 yards and gave the Bengals a new set of downs. Then again, had this been a regular season game, the flag probably wouldn’t have been thrown and Gruden would’ve simply been warned.

Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin did a nice job of bringing his safeties up to the line of scrimmage to help defend the run, and after watching Monday night’s game, there’s no doubt that he has some safeties that are willing participants when it comes to defending the ground game.

GRADE: B
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