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QUARTERBACKS:
Tampa Bay QB Brian Griese got off to a shaky start against Minnesota, completing just 1-of-5 passes. His biggest mistake of the game came early when the Bucs were driving and Griese threw a pass to wide receiver Joey Galloway that got picked off by Vikings safety Darren Sharper. Sharper took the pass 88 yards for a touchdown, which put the Vikings up 7-0 in the first quarter.

But Griese responded by making a couple of critical throws to Galloway and WR Michael Clayton. Those completions led to scoring drives, both of which were capped off by tight end Alex Smith, who hauled in two touchdown passes from Griese in the second quarter. Griese’s first TD strike to Smith came at the start of the second quarter. He got open down the left seam of the field and hauled in a 23-yard pass for the score. The second TD pass came late in the second quarter when Griese rolled out to his left before finding Smith in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard score, which put the Bucs up 14-7. Griese hooked up with Galloway for a 36-yard strike late in the second quarter, which helped to set up a Matt Bryant field goal, which gave the Bucs a 17-7 halftime lead.

Although he did a nice job of responding after the big interception return for a touchdown, Griese’s game had a few more mistakes, including an interception thrown to Vikings CB Fred Smoot on the sideline in Minnesota territory during the second quarter. Griese appeared to be trying to throw the ball out of bounds when Smoot grabbed the ball and did a nice job of keeping his feet in bounds for the pick on the Vikings 29-yard line. Griese also underthrew Galloway in the second quarter on a deep pass thrown near the end zone. That pass fell incomplete. At the start of the third quarter, Griese was called for a delay of game penalty.

Griese completed 18-of-29 (62 percent) passes and threw for 213 yards and tossed two touchdowns and two interceptions on Sunday. His ability to keep his composure after throwing the first pick proved to be key in the Bucs’ ability to battle back from a 7-0 deficit and win in a tough and hostile environment in Minnesota.

*Tampa Bay was 8-of-17 (47 percent) on third down tries against Minnesota.

GRADE: B


RUNNING BACKS:
Tampa Bay used rookie RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams in an attempt to establish its running game early. Although Williams didn’t have much success through the first three quarters of the game, he showed tremendous toughness, which helped him gain some extra yardage. Nearly all of Williams’ carries were on the perimeter since Vikings defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams proved to be a load up front. Williams’ longest run of the first half was a 19-yarder. That carry came in the second quarter. Perhaps Williams’ final three carries of the game were his most impressive. With the Bucs attempting to run the clock out, head coach Jon Gruden called three consecutive running plays. Williams’ produced a tough nine yards on his first two attempts. His third proved to be the charm after he took the ball and found daylight behind rookie left guard Dan Buenning, who opened up a huge hole that allowed Williams to run 71 yards to the end zone for his first professional touchdown, and more importantly, a score that gave the Bucs a 24-13 win over the Vikings.

Williams finished the game with 27 carries for 148 yards (5.5 avg.) and one touchdown. He did not catch any passes nor did he have any thrown his way.

Bucs RB Michael Pittman played sparingly. He did not carry the ball against the Vikings, and he dropped the one pass thrown in his direction on Sunday. The offensive backfield did feature Pittman and Williams, otherwise known as the “Rocket” backfield, several times, especially in the first half.

Fullback Mike Alstott didn’t see much action and made little to no impact. Jameel Cook struggled to open holes as a lead blocker on Sunday. He caught two passes for seven yards. His biggest reception of the game, which went for a first down, was negated by a penalty. He carried the ball one time in a goal-line situation, but Alstott barely got back to the line of scrimmage.

*The Bucs rushed 31 times for 146 yards (4.7 avg.) and one score.

GRADE: B+


WIDE RECEIVERS:
When the going got tough, Griese threw to WR Joey Galloway, who came up with some big catches on Sunday. His first catch of the game, which went for 14 yards on a third-and-9 play, gave the Bucs a much-needed first down. Galloway came up big again on the same drive by beating Vikings CB Brian Williams deep down the right sideline for a 30-yard catch, which put the Bucs offense on Minnesota’s 25-yard line. Later in the second quarter, Galloway hauled in a 12-yard pass on a slant, which gave the Bucs a first down on the Vikings’ 6-yard line. All three of those grabs helped Tampa Bay set up its first two scoring drives, both of which resulted in touchdowns, in the second quarter. Late in the second quarter, Galloway beat Vikings CB Ralph Brown deep, and although the pass was underthrown, Galloway managed to haul it in for a 35-yard gain. That big catch came on third down. Although he had a quiet second half, Galloway finished Sunday’s game with a team-high five catches for 97 yards (19.4 avg.).

Second-year WR Michael Clayton had a shaky start to the game when he dropped a perfectly thrown pass in the first quarter. It would have given the Bucs a first down. However, Clayton rebounded from that bad play by making a huge one late in the second quarter. Clayton hauled in a pass near the right sideline and sprinted up the field for a 42-yard gain. That pass play came on third-and-9, and it put the Bucs in scoring range. Kicker Matt Bryant drilled a field goal a few plays later thanks to Clayton’s big catch and run to the Vikings’ 15-yard line. Although he came up with that huge catch, Clayton dropped another pass and fumbled the ball after hauling in a pass from Griese in the third quarter. Clayton finished the game strong, though. He threw a key block for RB Cadillac Williams on the 71-yard scoring play. Clayton finished the game with four catches for 57 yards.

Newcomer Ike Hilliard caught one pass for four yards. He wasn’t very effective as a blocker down field.

*Tampa Bay had 345 yards of total offense, and eight of its 12 first downs came via the passing game.

GRADE: B


TIGHT ENDS:
Rookie TE Alex Smith proved to be a lethal weapon in the red zone on Sunday, catching two touchdown passes in the second quarter. Smith’s first grab came at the start of the second quarter when he beat Vikings LB Rod Moore down the left seam of the field for a 25-yard grab and score. Smith’s second TD grab came late in that quarter when he got himself open in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard score. Smith hauled in a short pass in the third quarter, but it was a big one. That reception came on third-and-3 and gave the Bucs a first down. Smith finished the game with four catches for 34 yards and two touchdowns.

Bucs TE Anthony Becht only caught one pass for an 8-yard gain in the third quarter. He spent most of the afternoon trying to open holes for the running game. He had a tough time doing that, and really struggled in pass protection. Becht was called for an illegal block in the back on a pass play from Griese to FB Jameel Cook. That penalty negated a first down.

If you’re looking for an unsung hero from Sunday’s game, Todd Steussie is certainly worthy. With Tampa Bay attempting to run the clock out late in the fourth quarter with a 17-13 lead, the Bucs called for Steussie to come in and line up as a tight end on the left side of the offensive line. Steussie was one of three players to throw key blocks on RB Cadillac Williams’ 71-yard touchdown run on that drive.

GRADE: A-


OFFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay had three new starters on its offensive line. Anthony Davis started at left tackle, Dan Buenning started at left guard in place of Matt Stinchcomb and Sean Mahan started at right guard ahead of Jeb Terry. Center John Wade and right tackle Kenyatta Walker were the only two returning starters for the Bucs.

Davis had a mixed outing, but performed well overall. He was flagged for a false start in the first quarter, and he allowed Vikings defensive end Lance Johnstone to sack QB Brian Griese on a third-and-3 play in the third quarter. However, Davis threw key blocks on RB Cadillac Williams’ longest runs of the game. Williams’ first run was a 19-yarder in the first half, and that run went to the left side. Of course, Davis was one of a few players to throw a key block on Williams’ 71-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.

Buenning threw the biggest block on Williams’ 71-yard touchdown run, though. He laid out safety Corey Chavous, which opened the huge hole for Williams. He struggled at times, but Buenning, with the help of Wade, did a decent job of containing DT Pat Williams.

Wade struggled a bit on Sunday. He was flagged for a false start in the second quarter, and he allowed Griese to get sacked by DT Pat Williams in the same quarter.

Mahan really struggled to open holes in the running game, and he was flagged for holding at the start of the third quarter. In Mahan’s defense, he had his hands full with Vikings DT Kevin Williams, who is a solid player.

*Bucs QB Brian Griese was sacked twice on Sunday.

GRADE: B


DEFENSIVE LINE:
This unit played a major role in Tampa Bay’s ability to hold Minnesota’s potent offense without a touchdown on Sunday. The Bucs were able to get pressure on Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper with their front four, and the consistent penetration rattled the veteran signal caller.

Tampa Bay defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan did a great job of getting penetration up front. McCarland sacked Culpepper in the first quarter. He finished the game with two tackles and one quarterback takedown.

Hovan showed great initial burst and explosion off the ball. He proved to be a very disruptive player, even when double-teamed. Hovan recorded two tackles and recovered a fumble caused by defensive end Simeon Rice in the second quarter.

Rice wanted to get off to a faster start this season and did it Sunday by sacking Culpepper and causing him to fumble in the second quarter. Hovan managed to recover the ball on the Vikings’ 49-yard line before it could roll out of bounds. Rice nearly sacked Culpepper again later in the second quarter, but the elusive quarterback moved up in the pocket to avoid the takedown. That pressure did, however, force an incompletion. Rice recorded three tackles, one sack and one forced fumble vs. the Vikings.

Even Tampa Bay’s backup defensive linemen were productive. Dewayne White recovered Culpepper’s fumble on a botched pass attempt in the first half. Not only did he recover the loose ball, White scooped it up and returned it 18 yards to Minnesota’s 23-yard line. White, who saw action at left and right end, and under tackle, recorded one tackle and one fumble recovery.

Backup DT Ellis Wyms, who was giving McFarland a breather, sacked Culpepper in the fourth quarter, but a holding penalty negated that great play and gave the Vikings a first down.

Greg Spires did a nice job of anchoring the left side of Tampa Bay’s defensive line. He notched one tackle on Sunday, but perhaps his most impressive play came in the third quarter when he dropped about 15 yards back into pass coverage and broke up a pass.

*Tampa Bay held Minnesota to just 26 yards rushing on 16 attempts (1.6 avg.).

GRADE: A-


LINEBACKERS:
Tampa Bay’s linebackers did a great job of plugging potential running lanes for Minnesota’s running backs.

Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles had a very active game, notching a team-high seven tackles and forcing a fumble.

Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks recorded four tackles vs. the Vikings. In the first quarter, Brooks missed a tackle on Vikings RB Moe Williams, which resulted in a 9-yard run. But his biggest mistake came late in the fourth quarter with Tampa Bay barely holding onto a 17-13 lead and the Vikings driving deep into Bucs’ territory. Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper hit fullback Jim Kleinsasser for an 11-yard gain down to Tampa Bay’s 12-yard line, but a huge hit by safety Jermaine Phillips caused a fumble. Instead of falling on the loose ball, Brooks tried to pick the ball up and run with it, which backfired as the ball slipped out of No. 55’s hands and into Vikings’ RB Moe Williams’ possession. Brooks did make up for that mistake, though, on Minnesota’s last drive of the game when he intercepted Culpepper to ice the win.

Strongside LB Ryan Nece had a quiet game. In fact, he didn’t record any tackles on Sunday. The Bucs, however, had a tough time covering Vikings tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who caught four passes. Those responsibilities usually fall on the Sam linebacker and/or one or both safeties.

* The Vikings converted 5-of-11 (45 percent) third down tries on Sunday.

GRADE: B+


SECONDARY:
The pressure sustained by Tampa Bay’s defensive line in the first half allowed the Bucs secondary to handle Vikings wide receivers Nate Burleson and Marcus Robinson.

But Minnesota was able to move the ball on Tampa Bay’s defense. In fact, the Vikings had the ball inside the Bucs’ 10-yard line twice on Sunday, but both of those drives ended with Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly picking off Culpepper. Kelly’s interception late in the fourth quarter secured the win for the Bucs. He did, however, have three penalties on Sunday. In the second quarter, Kelly was flagged for a late hit out of bounds. Kelly was called for illegal contact in the first half and holding in the fourth quarter. Still, his two interceptions outweighed those infractions and proved to be key in the Bucs’ 24-13 upset win over the Vikings.

The Vikings didn’t start throwing toward CB Ronde Barber’s side of the field until the second half. They had some success throwing to Burleson, who caught three passes for 45 yards, and Barber was even called for pass interference on Burleson in the fourth quarter. But Barber was solid overall. He deflected a pass while coming in on a blitz, which caused an incompletion. Although he didn’t notch any sacks, Barber pressured Culpepper a few times by blitzing from the slot and recorded three tackles on Sunday.

The Vikings attempted to pick on Bucs nickel CB Juran Bolden, and had some success in the process. Bolden was involved in a few big passing plays, including one to WR Travis Taylor and a touchdown pass to TE Jermaine Wiggins, which luckily for Bolden was negated on a questionable offensive pass interference penalty, in the third quarter. Bolden was also involved in a 19-yard catch made by Burleson in the fourth quarter. Bolden, who showed some toughness against the run, led all defensive backs with six tackles.

Culpepper actually threw two second half touchdown passes to Wiggins, but both plays were negated by penalties, which turned out to be huge for the Bucs since the Vikings had to settle for two field goals instead.

Bucs SS Jermaine Phillips forced Vikings FB Jim Kleinsasser to fumble after an 11-yard reception near Tampa Bay’s 12-yard line in the fourth quarter. But LB Derrick Brooks failed to scoop up the ball, which allowed the Vikings to recover it. Luckily for Brooks and Co., Kelly picked off Culpepper a few plays later. Phillips spent a lot of time near the line of scrimmage on Sunday and recorded four tackles vs. the Vikings. Free safety Dexter Jackson added five tackles of his own.

*Minnesota QB Daunte Culpepper completed 22-of-33 passes (66.6 percent) for 233 yards. He tossed three interceptions and no touchdowns.

GRADE: B


SPECIAL TEAMS:
Kicker Matt Bryant drilled a 41-yard field goal with 17 second remaining in the second quarter. That kick gave the Bucs a 17-7 halftime lead. Bryant’s kickoffs consistently fell just short of the goal line, but they were still deep enough. The kickoff coverage unit was solid, holding the Vikings to 17.8 yards per return on five attempts.

Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 46.8 yards per punt on six attempts. His longest punt was a 52-yarder, and he pinned one of his punts inside the 20-yard line. The Vikings averaged nearly 11 yards per punt return.

Mark Jones, who just re-signed with the Bucs last week, returned punts and did a good job. He averaged nine yards per return on three attempts. His longest punt return was a 14-yarder. Cornerback Torrie Cox returned kickoffs for the Bucs and averaged 20.8 yards per attempt. His longest kickoff return went for 26 yards.

Linebackers Marquis Cooper and Ryan Nece had two special teams tackles apiece. Safety Will Allen had a team-high three special teams takedowns.

GRADE: B+


COACHING:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden showed tremendous patience while his running game produced very few results early. But by sticking with the running game, things opened up for QB Brian Griese and WR Joey Galloway in the passing game, which produced some huge plays. And in the end, Tampa Bay’s ground attack, led by RB Cadillac Williams, produced 146 yards on 31 attempts.

Tampa Bay’s offensive line is young and inexperienced in some areas, but this unit still had too many penalties in what was a loud and hostile Metrodome. The Bucs, as a team, had too many self-inflicted wounds. They were penalized 13 times for 99 yards on Sunday.

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin did a great job of disguising coverage and mixing things up in the first half. This led to Tampa Bay’s defense holding Minnesota to just 66 yards of total offense in the first half. Kiffin’s defense came up with two sacks and a whopping five turnovers vs. Minnesota.

GRADE: B


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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