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QUARTERBACKS:
Bucs QB Chris Simms started off hot vs. the Saints, completing 5-of-7 passes for 58 yards while leading a 15-play, 88-yard scoring drive. He threw two key passes to wide receiver Ike Hilliard on third downs to pick up first downs and even picked up a first down by calling his own number on a quarterback sneak on a third-and-1 play. Simms capped off that drive by throwing a perfect strike to WR Joey Galloway in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown, which put the Bucs up 7-0. Simms and Galloway hooked up again in the second quarter when the third-year quarterback hit the speedy receiver in the corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown, which gave the Bucs a 14-3 lead. From there, Simms’ performance was shaky. He fumbled an exchange with center John Wade late in the second quarter but recovered the ball. After completing 5-of-7 passes to start the game, Simms finished the game completing 12-of-25 passes (48 percent) for 143 yards, which means he went just 7-of-18 (38.8 percent) from the second series of the game on. A few of Simms’ passes were nearly intercepted, including one to middle linebacker Ronald McKinnon that was overturned by a replay challenge by the Bucs in the fourth quarter, while a few others were off target, including a third down pass to fullback Mike Alstott in the flat that would have resulted in a touchdown had Simms thrown an accurate pass near the goal line. But Simms came up big after that near-disastrous interception when he threw a perfect strike to Galloway for a 20-yard gain on third-and-11 and again on the next play when he found rookie tight end Alex Smith off of play-action for a 22-yard gain. Both of those passes helped the Bucs get in field goal range, where kicker Matt Bryant drilled a 26-yarder that gave the Bucs three more points and some much-needed momentum. Simms’ best throw of the game, a perfect 46-yard strike down the right sideline to Galloway for a touchdown with 2:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, was negated by a holding penalty on guard Sean Mahan. Simms has seen better days, but at the end of the day he made enough plays to help the Bucs beat the Saints at Raymond James Stadium for the first time under head coach Jon Gruden.

*The Bucs converted 6-of-14 (43 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Saints.

GRADE: B-


RUNNING BACKS:
Tampa Bay’s running backs had a productive game vs. New Orleans. While rookie RB Carnell Williams quietly produced 81 yards on 22 carries (3.7 avg.), RB Michael Pittman had the longest run of the game when he broke off a 64-yarder down the left sideline before being tackled by former Bucs safety Dwight Smith on the Saints’ 1-yard line in the second quarter. The Bucs eventually scored a touchdown when Simms found Galloway in the end zone a few plays later. Pittman came up big a few more times, hauling in a 9-yard pass from Simms in the flat on a third-and-4 play in the second quarter, and working his way upfield after hauling in a pass from Simms for a 23-yard gain and a first down in the third quarter. Pittman carried the ball one time for 64 yards and hauled in three passes for 35 yards, giving him 99 yards of total offense on Sunday.

Williams had seven carries for 33 yards on the opening series, which resulted in a touchdown for the Bucs. With two minutes remaining in the second quarter, Williams fumbled a handoff from Simms, but guard Sean Mahan recovered the loose ball.

Fullback Mike Alstott was effective as a lead blocker, especially in the first half. He was also a reliable target in the passing game, where he hauled in a short pass from Simms in the first quarter and rumbled his way upfield for a 24-yard gain to the Saints’ 42-yard line. Alstott scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run in the second quarter, but that play was negated by an illegal formation penalty. He also got himself open in the flat for a would-be score in the fourth quarter, but Simms’ pass was off the mark and fell incomplete. Alstott finished the game with one carry for 2 yards and one catch for 24 yards.

*Tampa Bay carried the ball 26 times for 149 yards (5.7 avg.) vs. New Orleans.

GRADE: B+


WIDE RECEIVERS:
Bucs WR Joey Galloway had a big day, catching four passes for 38 yards and two touchdowns. However, his stats could’ve been better. In the third quarter Galloway dropped a perfectly thrown pass from Simms down the right sideline, and in the fourth quarter Simms’ perfect strike down the right sideline connected with Galloway for a 46-yard touchdown, but a holding penalty on Mahan negated that great play.

Wide receiver Ike Hilliard, who started in place of Michael Clayton, hauled in two catches on third downs in the first quarter. However, he didn’t catch another pass.

*The Bucs were outgained by the Saints on Sunday, 306-285 yards.

GRADE: B


TIGHT ENDS:
Tampa Bay tight ends Anthony Becht and Alex Smith did a nice job blocking. The Bucs did not feature as many two-tight end sets as they normally do and even deployed a few three- and-four receiver sets. Smith did a nice job of getting open on Sunday, but Simms had a tough time finding him until the fourth quarter when the young signal caller play-action passed to Smith for a 22-yard gain. That was Smith’s only catch of the game.

*Of Tampa Bay’s 14 first downs, 10 came via the passing game.

GRADE: B


OFFENSIVE LINE:
Although Tampa Bay allowed one sack, which came on a corner blitz, the Bucs offensive line opened up some big running lanes while struggling with penalties.

Guard Sean Mahan made a key block on Pittman’s 64-yard run and recovered Simms’ fumble in the second quarter. However, he was also called for three holding penalties, including ones that negated a 20-plus yard run by Williams and a 46-yard touchdown reception by Galloway in the fourth quarter. Right tackle Kenyatta Walker was also called for holding on a third-down passing play in the third quarter. However, that penalty was declined. Things got scary in the fourth quarter when rookie G Dan Buenning allowed a Saints defender to penetrate the line of scrimmage and deflect Simms’ pass, which nearly landed in McKinnon’s arms. Luckily for the Bucs, a replay challenge overturned what was initially ruled an interception.

GRADE: C


DEFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay’s defensive line had some trouble getting after New Orleans QB Todd Bouman through the first three quarters of the game, but this unit really turned up the pressure in the fourth quarter.

Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice notched his 13th sack of the season in the third quarter by bringing down Bouman on a third-down play, which forced a punt. But Rice’s biggest play came with 4:15 remaining in the fourth quarter when he chased Bouman down on fourth-and-3 and sacked him on the Saints’ 46-yard line. Rice notched two tackles and two sacks on Sunday.

Bucs backup DL Dewayne White and middle linebacker Shelton Quarles tackled Saints RB Antowain Smith on the 5-yard line for a 7-yard loss in the second quarter. For the second straight week, White came up big for the Bucs when he sacked Bouman, forced the quarterback to fumble and scooped up the loose ball and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown with 1:43 remaining in the game. That score and the extra point put the Bucs up for good, 27-13. White notched five tackles, a sack, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery vs. the Saints.

Tampa Bay DE Greg Spires left Sunday’s game momentarily in the first quarter with an ankle injury. However, he returned a few plays later. Spires was called for roughing the passer in the third quarter, but the Saints declined that penalty. Late in the fourth quarter, Spires sacked Bouman. He finished the game with four tackles and a sack.

Bucs defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan did a nice job plugging up holes and taking on blockers in the trenches. Hovan recorded a tackle while McFarland was shut out of the statistic column. Backup DT Ellis Wyms saw a significant amount of playing time in place of McFarland and notched one tackle.

*The Bucs held the Saints to 71 yards rushing on 23 carries (3.1 avg.) while sacking QB Todd Bouman four times.

GRADE: B+


LINEBACKERS:
Bucs middle linebacker Shelton Quarles and White teamed up to tackle Smith for a 7-yard loss in the second quarter. However, Quarles and safety Will Allen were a half of a second late coming over on Bouman’s 24-yard touchdown pass to WR Devery Henderson in the second quarter. Quarles made a nice open-field tackle on a third-down play in the third quarter to force a punt. He finished the game with 10 tackles.

Weakside LB Derrick Brooks was all over the field Sunday, recording a team-leading 15 tackles vs. the Saints. Strongside LB Ryan Nece pitched in with five tackles of his own. The linebackers took good angles and filled the right gaps throughout most of the game.

*The Saints were 4-of-11 (36 percent) on third downs vs. the Bucs.

GRADE: B


SECONDARY:
Tampa Bay starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips sat out of Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. Backup S Will Allen started in Phillips’ place. It didn’t take long for Allen to make a big play. On New Orleans’ opening drive on a fourth-and-2 play, Allen did a nice job of racing to the sideline to pick off Bouman’s pass on the 12-yard line. While he probably should have let the ball fall incomplete since it was fourth down, Allen made an impressive play to intercept the pass, which killed the drive. In the second quarter, Allen made a nice tackle on WR Donte’ Stallworth on third down to force a punt. Later in the same quarter, Allen and Quarles were late coming over on Bouman’s 24-yard touchdown strike to Henderson. Allen finished the game with eight tackles.

With Phillips out, the Saints tried to exploit the Bucs secondary, and they had some success. Saints TE Zachary Hilton gave the Bucs some fits on Sunday. He finished the game with five catches for 74 yards. Hilton hauled in a 29-yard pass vs. Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly at the start of the second quarter. That play put the Saints on the Bucs’ 11-yard line. The Saints wound up capping off that 77-yard, 10-play drive with a 25-yard field goal from kicker John Karney. From there, the Saints made some big plays through the air with the help of the officials, who made some questionable calls. The first suspect penalty came in the second quarter when the officials flagged Kelly for pass interference on Henderson. That questionable call gave the Saints a 27-yard gain to the Bucs’ 24-yard line. A few plays later, Bouman connected with Henderson for the touchdown, which made the score 14-10 in favor of the Bucs. In the third quarter, Kelly was called for illegal contact, which gave the Saints an automatic first down. Kelly recorded five tackles on Sunday.

Kelly wasn’t the only Bucs defensive back getting called for penalties on Sunday. Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber was flagged for a personal foul (facemask) penalty in the third quarter, which put the Saints at the Bucs’ 49-yard line. Barber recorded 11 tackles, which was the second-highest tackle total behind only Brooks on Sunday.

Bucs nickel CB Juran Bolden came up big with 1:08 remaining in the second quarter when he intercepted Bouman and returned the ball 18 yards to the Saints’ 28-yard line. The Bucs wound up kicking a 46-yard field goal after creating that turnover. Still, Barber, Kelly, Bolden and safeties Will Allen and Dexter Jackson had a difficult time containing Hilton and Saints wide receivers Az Hakim (six catches for 71 yards) and Donte’ Stallworth (six catches for 61 yards).

*Saints QB Todd Bouman completed 25-of-37 (67.5 percent) of his passes for 265 yards and tossed one touchdown and two interceptions vs. the Bucs.

GRADE: C


SPECIAL TEAMS:
Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant was perfect on his field goal attempts, drilling a 46-yard field goal in the second quarter and a 26-yarder in the fourth quarter. His kickoffs were solid.

Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 46 yards per punt. He got off a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter that pinned the Saints on their own 25-yard line.

The Bucs replaced kick returner Edell Shepherd with Michael Pittman, who did a nice job. He averaged 28.3 yards per return on three attempts, and broke of a 37-yarder in the third quarter.

Punt returner Mark Jones had a 22-yard punt return in the second quarter. He averaged 12 yards per return on two attempts.

An otherwise sharp performance by the special teams unit was hindered by penalties on Dewayne White (personal foul), safety Kalvin Pearson (holding) and fullback Jameel Cook (personal foul – facemask).

GRADE: B+


COACHING:
Bucs head coach and playcaller Jon Gruden put together a smart game plan for the game vs. the Saints, a team the Bucs couldn’t afford to take lightly and didn’t take lightly. The playcalling was pretty aggressive, and the Bucs were able to move the ball and score points when needed thanks to good field position and a solid running game. Gruden’s decision to challenge the interception by McKinnon in the fourth quarter was huge. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin timed the team’s blitzes well but had trouble coming up with an answer for tight end Zach Hilton. Penalties were a problem in all three phases. The Bucs were penalized 10 times for 107 yards.

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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