This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider 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.
QUARTERBACKS: Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms once again showed the ability to lead his team back from a late deficit on Saturday. Simms got off to an impressive start vs. the Falcons, engineering a six-play, 72-yard drive that was capped off by his 9-yard pass to fullback Jameel Cook for a touchdown in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the third-year signal caller put together a four-play, 29-yard drive that ended with Simms hitting FB Mike Alstott for a 13-yard touchdown, which put the Bucs up 14-7. However, things unraveled for Simms throughout the rest of the half. He was intercepted by linebacker Keith Brooking after getting drilled by Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney. The Falcons turned that turnover into seven points by putting together an 11-play, 53-yard drive. Late in the second quarter, the Bucs offense was driving, but Simms threw an errant pass off the back of his foot, which allowed Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall to pick off the pass and return it to the Bucs’ 13-yard line with 59 seconds remaining in the half. The Falcons once again turned Simms’ turnover into points by drilling a 31-yard field goal, which put the Falcons up 17-14 at halftime.
However, things turned around for Simms and the offense in the fourth quarter when the Bucs starting quarterback completed 5-of-6 passes en route to putting together a nine-play, 43-yard drive that was capped off by kicker Matt Bryant’s 50-yard field goal, which tied the game at 17. With the Bucs trailing 24-17 late in the fourth quarter, Simms engineered an 11-play, 65-yard drive that was capped off by running back Cadillac Williams’ 6-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 play. Simms completed 4-of-7 passes for 39 yards on that drive. That score sent the game into overtime, and Simms’ 15-yard throw to tight end Alex Smith and 11-yard strike to TE Anthony Becht helped to put the Bucs in position to kick the 41-yard game-winning field goal in overtime. Despite receiving little protection from the offensive line, particularly tackles Anthony Davis and Todd Steussie, until late in the game, Simms showed tremendous toughness and poise en route to leading the Bucs to a come-from-behind victory over the Falcons. He completed 29-of-42 passes for 285 yards and tossed two touchdowns and two interceptions.
*Tampa Bay converted 5-of-13 (38 percent) of its third down attempts vs. Atlanta.
RUNNING BACKS: Tampa Bay rookie RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams carried the Bucs offense on his back, especially in the second half of Saturday’s contest vs. the Falcons. Williams muscled his way past and over Falcons defenders and gave the Bucs some short down-and-distance situations, which played an integral role in the Bucs’ ability to convert 38 percent of their third down attempts vs. the Falcons, who entered Saturday’s game ranked No. 1 in third down defense. Williams’ longest run of the game, a 14-yarder on a delayed handoff from Simms, came in the fourth quarter. From there, Williams completely took over the game with some tough runs, including a third-and-2 carry that he turned into a 3-yard gain and first down late in the fourth quarter. He also demonstrated his receiving ability by hauling in a 10-yard pass from Simms on that same drive. That play put the Bucs on the Falcons’ 15-yard line. On fourth-and-1 from the Falcons’ 6-yard line, Williams showed his speed and cutting ability by taking a handoff from Simms and bouncing it out to the left side for a 6-yard score, which tied the game at 24 and sent it into overtime. Williams rushed for 35 and 45 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime, respectively. He rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries (4.8 avg.) vs. Atlanta on Saturday.
While he failed to pick up a first down on a third-and-2 running play on the opening drive of the game, Bucs RB Michael Pittman was effective as a ball carrier late in the game. He gave Williams some much-needed breathers and kept the chains moving. Pittman rushed four times for 17 yards (4.3 avg.). He also hauled in four passes for 17 yards. Perhaps Pittman’s biggest play of the game came near the end of the second quarter when he made the touchdown-saving tackle on Hall. The Falcons wound up having to kick a field goal, and Hall never returned to the game after sustaining a shoulder injury on that play.
Fullbacks Mike Alstott and Jameel Cook were lethal weapons in the red zone. Cook hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Simms in the first quarter, and Alstott caught an 11-yard pass from Simms and rumbled his way near the goal line before leaping into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter. Alstott carried the ball one time for 5 yards while catching three passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. He had a key 11-yard catch and run for a first down in overtime. Cook didn’t touch the ball again. Both players, particularly Alstott, did a nice job of opening up running lanes for Williams.
*The Bucs rushed for 174 yards on 37 carries (4.7 avg.) and a touchdown on Saturday.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Bucs WR Joey Galloway had a strong performance, hauling in eight passes for 97 yards. One of Galloway’s biggest grabs came in the fourth quarter when he hauled in a 21-yard pass from Simms to the Falcons’ 38-yard line. That pass put Bryant close enough to hit a 50-yard field goal attempt. His biggest catch appeared to be the 30-yarder down the right sideline in overtime. While that circus catch put the Bucs on the Falcons’ 9-yard line, Bryant wound up missing the field goal attempt.
Bucs WR Michael Clayton came up with an 11-yard grab on the left sideline in the first quarter, but he left the game injured after that play. Ike Hilliard caught one pass for a 6-yard gain and dropped a pass from Simms late in the fourth quarter that would have given the Bucs a first down near the Falcons goal line. Luckily for Hilliard, the Bucs still managed to score a few plays later.
*Tampa Bay produced 30 first downs vs. Atlanta, and 17 of them came via the passing game.
TIGHT ENDS: Bucs rookie TE Alex Smith had the best game of his young career by catching eight passes for 75 yards. Several of Smith’s grabs came on third down, and the athletic tight end converted those plays into first downs. Smith’s longest reception of the game came in the first quarter when Simms found him wide open on a middle screen-play, which resulted in an 18-yard gain. While his pass-catching was impressive, his blocking wasn’t quite as good. Smith allowed Falcons DE Patrick Kerney to sack Simms on the last play of the second quarter to prevent Simms from getting off a Hail Mary pass attempt. Overall, Smith proved to be an extremely reliable target in the passing game while opening up a few holes for Williams in the running game.
Tight end Anthony Becht did a nice job blocking on perimeter running plays. He even chipped in as a pass catcher by hauling in a 17-yard pass from Simms on a third-and-4 play in the fourth quarter. That wound up being a huge play as Bryant went on to kick the 50-yard field goal after that catch. In overtime, Becht was called for a suspect pass interference penalty, which negated Galloway’s catch for a first down in Falcons territory. However, Becht made up for that penalty by catching an 11-yard pass from Simms to get the Bucs in field goal range late in overtime. That grab helped set up Bryant’s 41-yard, game-winning field goal with four seconds remaining in overtime. Becht, who was questionable for Saturday’s game with an ankle injury, caught two passes for 28 yards.
*The Bucs produced 444 yards of total offense vs. the Falcons.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Tampa Bay’s offensive line, particularly its offensive tackles, struggled to hold off Atlanta’s potent pass rush throughout most of Saturday’s game. Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker, who entered the game with a shoulder injury, struggled mightily, allowing Kerney to hit Simms, which caused the interception to LB Keith Brooking in the second quarter. Walker also allowed Kerney to knock Simms down on the third-year quarterback’s second interception of the contest. Those two turnovers led to 10 points for the Falcons. In the third quarter, Walker was called for holding on Kerney and fell to the ground in pain with what appeared to be a leg injury. Backup RT Todd Steussie took Walker’s place and didn’t perform much better initially. He was called for a false start penalty, which forced a third-and-11 and eventually killed a promising drive. Walker returned to the lineup just to be pulled for good in the fourth quarter after being flagged for holding again. Steussie replaced Walker and performed well in pass protection from that point forward.
Walker wasn’t the only Bucs O-lineman to struggle in pass protection. Bucs rookie left guard Dan Buenning allowed Falcons defensive tackle Rod Coleman to sack Simms on third down late in the third quarter. Although he surrendered that quarterback takedown, Buenning, center John Wade and left tackle Anthony Davis did a nice job of opening up running lanes for Williams, especially on the left side of the field.
*Tampa Bay allowed Atlanta to notch two sacks on Saturday.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Tampa Bay under tackle Anthony McFarland started Saturday despite being listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. Both he and nose tackle Chris Hovan did a nice job of plugging potential running lanes. McFarland only notched one tackle and allowed Falcons RB T.J. Duckett to bull his way over him for a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but Hovan recorded five and recovered a fumble after DL Dewayne White forced Vick to lose control of the ball on a scramble in the second quarter. The Bucs offense wound up turning that turnover into seven points. White notched four tackles on Saturday.
Defensive end Simeon Rice showed up for this one. He notched four tackles and two sacks. Rice’s first sack on Falcons QB Michael Vick came on a third-and-8 play in the second quarter. After being called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (penalty offset with Falcons personal foul penalty) in the fourth quarter, Rice came up big again in overtime by sacking Vick for an 8-yard loss after Vick had lost his footing.
Bucs DE Greg Spires was a solid anchor on the left side of the defensive line. He recorded five tackles.
*Atlanta rushed 36 times for 154 yards (4.3 avg.) and a touchdown vs. Tampa Bay.
LINEBACKERS: Tampa Bay did a decent job of containing Vick, although the elusive quarterback rushed 11 times for 67 yards on Saturday. The Falcons had some success running on the Bucs. Warrick Dunn produced 59 yards on 14 carries (4.2 avg.), but the Bucs defense stepped up late in the game and halted the Falcons ground attack, which ranked No. 1 overall heading into Saturday’s contest.
Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks had an active game. He notched eight tackles and broke up one of Vick’s passes in the second quarter on a third-and-9 play. Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles recorded seven tackles and proved to be a physical presence against the running game, especially in the first half. Bucs SLB Ryan Nece notched six tackles.
*Tampa Bay held Atlanta to just 281 yards of total offense.
SECONDARY: Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly was flagged for a pass interference penalty on Falcons WR Roddy White in the first quarter. That 47-yard penalty put the Falcons on the Bucs’ 4-yard line. The Falcons scored a touchdown on the next play to go up 7-0. However, Kelly responded well to being tested on a few more throws from Vick throughout the game. He finished the contest with five tackles and a pass defensed. White dropped a few passes and finished the game with three catches for 31 yards.
Bucs CB Ronde Barber struggled a bit in pass coverage as well. In the second quarter, Barber allowed Falcons WR Michael Jenkins to haul in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Vick. Later in the second quarter, Barber chased Vick out of bounds for a sack. Barber and free safety Dexter Jackson allowed Jenkins to haul in a 36-yard strike from Vick with 4:23 remaining in the fourth quarter. That play put the Falcons on the Bucs’ 3-yard line. Duckett drove his way into the end zone on the next play. While Barber could have played better against the pass, he came up huge in overtime by breaking up a pass intended for Jenkins on third down. Barber notched a team-high 13 tackles vs. the Falcons.
Jackson nearly intercepted Vick near the end of the second quarter but couldn’t hold onto the ball. That pass breakup forced the Falcons to settle for a field goal. In the fourth quarter, Jackson blitzed and sacked Vick on a third-and-8 play. That turned out to be a huge play since the previous play featured Jackson being involved in the White catch for what appeared to be a touchdown before the receiver hit the ground and lost control of the football to cause an incompletion. Jackson recorded two tackles, a sack and one pass defensed.
Bucs SS Jermaine Phillips recorded four tackles. Nickel CB Juran Bolden didn’t notch a tackle on Saturday.
*Vick completed 16-of-26 passes for 161 yards and tossed two touchdowns and no interception. The Falcons converted 4-of-13 (31 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Bucs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Bucs kicker Matt Bryant was 2-of-3 on field goal attempts. His first field goal came in the fourth quarter when he drilled a career-long 50-yarder, which tied the game at 17-17. However, in overtime, Bryant’s 27-yard field goal attempt missed wide left after a bad snap from long snapper Dave Moore. But Bryant rebounded by drilling a 41-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining in overtime to win the game for the Bucs.
Bucs punt returner Mark Jones broke off a 52-yarder in the second quarter, but that play was negated by WR Edell Shepherd’s illegal block in the back penalty. Jones came back huge in overtime when he returned a punt 28 yards to the Falcons’ 49-yard line. That return helped set up the Bucs’ game-winning field goal by Bryant. Jones returned six punts for 216 yards (9.2 avg.) on Saturday.
Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 43.2 yards per attempt and pinned three of his five punts inside the 20-yard line. Bidwell’s 38-yard punt in the first half set the Falcons up for a scoring drive. But he did an excellent job of holding on Bryant’s kicking attempts despite fielding some low snaps from Moore.
Bucs KR Edell Shepherd nearly gave the game away in overtime when he fumbled the opening kickoff. The Falcons recovered the loose ball at the Bucs’ 25-yard line. But DL Dewayne White came up huge a few plays later by blocking the Falcons’ 28-yard field goal attempt.
Cornerback Torrie Cox was flagged for being offsides on a kickoff in the second quarter.
COACHING: Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s playcalling was just what the doctor ordered for a game against the Falcons defense. It was conservative at the appropriate times and imaginative at others, evidenced by the middle screen play to TE Alex Smith for an 18-yard gain and the fullback dive call for Mike Alstott in the first half. With the tackles struggling to keep Atlanta’s defensive ends off of QB Chris Simms, Gruden made the proper adjustments (pulling Kenyatta Walker) and put the game in the hands of Cadillac Williams. That strategy proved to be very effective, especially in the fourth quarter when Williams and the Bucs ate up a lot of time off the clock. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin timed his blitzed well, especially the one by Dexter Jackson that resulted in a sack on Vick that took the Falcons out of field goal range. Special teams coach Richard Bisaccia’s units had a few mishaps, but this unit overcame those mistakes and turned in some huge plays on Saturday.
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.