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QUARTERBACKS: Tampa Bay’s offense sputtered from the start of Saturday’s game in New England and never got on track en route to a 28-0 loss to the Patriots. While the quarterback naturally has to take some blame when an offense gets shutout, Bucs QB Chris Simms wasn’t the main culprit from Saturday’s debacle. Simms fell under heavy duress early, but to his credit he showed tremendous toughness and kept his poise in the pocket, hooking up with wide receiver Ike Hilliard four times for four first downs on third down plays in the first half. One of the problems was the Bucs only produced five first downs throughout the entire first half. The Patriots, on the other hand, recorded 15 first downs in the first half. It didn’t take long for the hits and sacks to begin taking a toll on Simms late in the second quarter. He wound up getting sacked seven times by New England’s defense, and six of those quarterback takedowns came via the Patriots’ linebackers. Patriots LB Mike Vrabel’s sack on Simms near the end of the second quarter forced the third-year signal caller to fumble. The Patriots scored a touchdown from the 27-yard line three plays later. Simms got sacked and fumbled again in the third quarter after LB Teddy Bruschi took him down. Bucs rookie RB Cadillac Williams recovered that loose ball. Simms spent most of Saturday’s game under heavy pressure and checking down to his receivers in the flats. Surprisingly, those throws were by design. Despite the fact that New England’s secondary had been depleted by injuries and was extremely suspect entering this contest, most of the routes run by the receivers were in the short-to-intermediate part of the field. Simms never really had the time or the play calls to test the deep part of the field on Saturday. He completed 21-of-34 passes for 155 yards and threw no touchdowns and no interceptions while getting sacked seven times.
*Tampa Bay converted 7-of-16 (44 percent) of its third down attempts vs. New England.
RUNNING BACKS: Tampa Bay’s running game never got on track. Bucs rookie RB Cadillac Williams managed to break off a few 3-yard gains in the first half, but he never had enough room to get much more yardage than that. Williams carried the ball 14 times for 23 yards (1.6 avg.) and struggled in pass protection.
Like Williams, Bucs RB Michael Pittman also struggled to help keep New England’s defenders off of Simms. In the first quarter, Pittman allowed Patriots DE Willie McGinest to sack Simms on third-and-10. Pittman has two carries for 6 yards and caught one pass for 3 yards.
Fullback Mike Alstott didn’t fare well as a lead blocker and carried the ball one time for 2 yards while catching two passes for 8 yards.
*Tampa Bay rushed 18 times for 30 yards (1.7 avg.). Its longest run was a 4-yarder.
For the second straight game, Bucs No. 3 WR Ike Hilliard proved to be Simms’ go-to guy on third downs. Hilliard hauled in four passes on third downs in the first half and converted each of them into first downs. Hilliard’s longest completion was a 22-yarder in the second quarter. He also had a drop in the third quarter. Hilliard finished the game with five catches for 50 yards.
Bucs WR Joey Galloway wasn’t much of a threat, although he did get open in the intermediate part of the field a few times in the first half without Simms finding him due to pressure. Like Hilliard, Galloway dropped a pass, but his was much more costly as it came on a fourth-and-1 play in the third quarter, which stalled a Bucs drive in Patriots territory. Galloway caught four passes for 38 yards vs. the Patriots.
Michael Clayton was also guilty of dropping a pass. His came in the second quarter. However, Clayton came up with an 18-yard grab in the third quarter. He finished the game with two catches for 26 yards.
*The Bucs produced just 138 yards of total offense on Saturday.
TIGHT ENDS: Tampa Bay tight ends Alex Smith and Anthony Becht were effective in their attempt to hold off New England’s blitzing linebackers on the first two series of the game, but the floodgates opened from there. Six of New England’s seven sacks were notched by the Patriots’ linebackers, and both Smith and Becht struggled in pass protection and in opening up holes for the running game. Smith had four catches for 26 yards, but most of his production came on dink and dunk passes from Simms in the flats. Becht had no catches.
*The Bucs had just 12 first downs during Saturday’s game.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Even max protect sets couldn’t help this unit hold off New England’s blitzes and pass rush. The Bucs offensive line failed miserably in its attempt to establish the running game. It was equally as bad in pass protection, especially after the Bucs fell behind by two scores in the second quarter. Tackles Anthony Davis and Kenyatta Walker had what could be deemed their worst outings of the season. McGinest, who went up against Walker throughout most of Saturday’s game, notched two sacks and a fumble recovery. Simply put, the grade here sums up the performance of Tampa Bay’s O-line.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Tampa Bay’s front four did a decent job defending New England’s ground attack, but it failed to sustain a consistent and potent pass rush on Patriots QB Tom Brady.
Ellis Wyms started at under tackle in place of Anthony “Booger” McFarland, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Wyms injured his leg in the second quarter and was briefly replaced by Dewayne White, who notched three tackles and was called for being offsides in the same quarter. Wyms had a very active game, especially vs. the run, but failed to get enough pressure on Brady. He finished the game with five tackles.
Nose tackle Chris Hovan recorded seven tackles, which led all Bucs defensive linemen. Hovan penetrated the Patriots’ offensive backfield on a few occasions, but Brady did a good job of eluding the pass rush and getting the ball off to receivers before getting hit.
Although he notched the only sack of the game for the Bucs, defensive end Simeon Rice’s outing vs. Patriots LT Tom Ashworth left much to be desired. He got after Brady a few times, but not nearly enough. Rice was also called for a personal foul – grabbing the facemask – penalty in the second quarter. One of Rice’s best plays came in the second quarter when he sniffed out a screen pass to Patriots RB Kevin Faulk and tackled him for a 5-yard loss. Like the rest of the defensive line, Rice did play well vs. the run. He notched five tackles on the afternoon.
Left end Greg Spires recorded six tackles but didn’t sustain much of a pass rush on Saturday.
*New England rushed 23 times for 83 yards (2.6 avg.) and one touchdown, which was scored by Corey Dillon in the second quarter.
LINEBACKERS: Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks and middle linebacker Shelton Quarles each recorded seven tackles vs. the Patriots. Brooks had a chance to intercept Brady on the first play of the game, but the errant pass went off his hands. The Patriots went on to put together a 12-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. On the next series, Brooks fell as he rushed through an open hole in the O-line on a blitz. This allowed Brady to complete a 31-yard pass to WR David Givens when the Patriots were backed up deep in their own territory.
Rookie MLB Barrett Ruud saw a significant amount of action and registered three tackles. He also showed the ability to make good drops in pass coverage.
Strongside linebacker Ryan Nece recorded two tackles.
Tampa Bay’s linebackers did a nice job of defending screen-plays, the run and New England’s running backs and tight ends in the passing game. However, they didn’t make any splash plays, like creating turnovers, on a day when the offense desperately needed them from the defense.
*New England converted 7-of-16 (44 percent) third down attempts vs. Tampa Bay.
SECONDARY: Tampa Bay’s secondary had one of its worst outings in recent memory vs. New England on Saturday. This unit allowed Brady to pick them apart. He completed 20-of-31 passes for 258 yards while tossing three touchdowns and no interceptions. In the secondary’s defense, Tampa Bay’s pass rush, or lack thereof, gave Brady the time he needed to throw to his receivers. Still, the Tampa Bay secondary has seen better days than this one.
Nickel cornerback Juran Bolden easily had the worst outing of his Bucs career after the Patriots clearly decided to pick on him in this contest, and wisely so. His woes began on the Patriots’ first offensive series of the game when Brady threw a perfect strike to WR David Givens, who managed to get open in-between Bolden and safety Dexter Jackson. That reception resulted in a 32-yard gain to the Bucs’ 41-yard line. On the next series, Bolden allowed Givens to catch a 31-yard pass from Brady on a similar corner route. He had a chance to make amends for those two mishaps later in the second quarter when Brady threw a pass right to him, but Bolden dropped the easy interception that might have been returned for a touchdown had he held onto the ball. Later in the second quarter, Bolden was covering Christian Fauria when the tight end hauled in a pass for a first down on the Bucs’ 27-yard line. The Patriots eventually scored on that series to take a 14-0 lead over the Bucs. In the fourth quarter, Bolden was involved in coverage when WR Deion Branch caught a 19-yard strike from Brady in the fourth quarter. Bolden finished the game with four tackles and one pass defensed. He was a big reason why Givens finished the game with six catches for 137 yards and a touchdown on Saturday.
Bolden wasn’t the only player that had trouble containing Givens and Co. Bucs CB Ronde Barber allowed Givens to gain 15 yards after catching a pass on a crossing route late in the third quarter. In the second quarter, Barber was called for being offsides. However, Barber made up for that mistake on the next play when he broke up a pass intended for Branch, which forced the Patriots to punt.
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber called for offsides in second quarter. But Barber makes up for play on next play by breaking up pass intended for WR Deion Branch. Forced a punt. Barber allows Givens to gain 15 yards on crossing route late in the third quarter. The Patriots didn’t throw Barber’s way too often on Saturday, and wisely so. He had, after all, recorded four interceptions in the two previous games. Barber notched just one tackle on Saturday.
Bucs CB Brian Kelly was involved in coverage on Givens’ 16-yard touchdown reception near the end of the second quarter. That score put the Bucs down 21-0 at halftime. In the fourth quarter, Kelly was in on coverage when Patriots WR Andre’ Davis hauled in a 19-yard pass from Brady. Kelly was even called for a face mask penalty on the play. He finished the game with one tackle.
Jackson had an active day against the run but could have played better against the pass. He registered a team-leading eight tackles vs. the Patriots.
Safety Jermaine Phillips notched four tackles on Saturday. On New England’s first drive of the game, Phillips bit on Brady’s play-action pass to tackle-eligible receiver Tom Ashworth in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown. That score capped off a 12-play, 76-yard drive by the Patriots.
Tampa Bay’s secondary was shredded by Brady, who did a nice job of keeping the Bucs defense off balance by spreading the ball and around and completing passes to nine different receivers.
*New England produced 336 yards of total offense vs. Tampa Bay’s defense, which was ranked No. 2 overall heading into Saturday’s contest.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Bucs punter Josh Bidwell had a busy day, averaging 43.9 yards per punt on seven attempts. He pinned two of those attempts inside the Patriots’ 20-yard line.
Not only did Bolden struggle on defense, he also was called for an illegal block in the back on Mar Jones’ punt return in the second quarter.
Speaking of Jones, safety Kalvin Pearson’s holding penalty in the third quarter negated his 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. The penalty was a good call as it had an impact on the return directly.
Bucs LB Ryan Nece was flagged for roughing the kicker in the second quarter after the defense had forced the Patriots to punt. That penalty gave the Patriots offense a fresh set of downs and eventually allowed them to put together a 12-play, 63-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown.
Neither Edell Shepherd nor Earnest Graham were effective in the kickoff return game.
COACHING: The Patriots offensive attack kept the Bucs defense off balance while Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s playcalling was suspect throughout most of the game. New England entered Saturday’s game with a secondary that had been depleted by injuries and struggled vs. the pass, yet Gruden rarely called plays that allowed Simms to take shots down the field. The decision-making process left much to be desired. In the third quarter, the Bucs failed to pick up a much-needed first down while driving into Patriots’ territory on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 plays. Neither play featured a formation that gave the threat of a run, and both passing plays failed to pick up the first down. To make matters worse, the Patriots defense was without 335-pound nose tackle Vince Wilfork (left game briefly with an injury) on both of those plays.
The Bucs offense didn’t look prepared for the Patriots’ variety of blitz packages, and Gruden, for whatever reason, didn’t use any screen or draw plays to help the offense survive and/or thrive against those types of blitzes. The Bucs defense allowed Brady to move the ball through the air with relative ease. And when the special teams delivered the big return for a touchdown, yet another penalty hindered this unit’s efforts. Gruden and his staff were outcoached by the Patriots in this contest.
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