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QUARTERBACKS: He didn’t make many splash plays, but Bucs QB Chris Simms did a fine job of managing the game plan that head coach Jon Gruden formulated for Sunday’s contest vs. the Panthers. With the exception of a deep pass throw down the sideline for wide receiver Joey Galloway in the first quarter, most of Simms’ passes were short. However, he was deadly accurate, completing 15-of-19 passes in the first half alone. In fact, five of Simms’ first six incompletions came as a result of dropped passes. Simms played an error-free football game and received a potent ground attack and comfortable pocket to throw out of thanks to the play of the offensive line. Simms completed 20-of-27 (74 percent) of his passes for 138 yards and didn’t toss a touchdown or an interception.
*Tampa Bay converted 10-of-17 (59 percent) of its third downs into first downs vs. Carolina.
Fullback Mike Alstott made a key block on Williams’ 14-yard TD run in the first quarter. He picked up a key first down by diving over the pile on third-and-1 late in the second quarter. That run helped to keep a drive alive that eventually ended with a Matt Bryant field goal, which put the Bucs up 10-0 at halftime. In the third quarter, Alstott hauled in an 8-yard pass from Simms on a play-action rollout. In the third quarter, Alstott leaped over the pile on third-and-1 but was held short of a first down by about half a yard. Simms and Alstott hooked up again on another rollout in the fourth quarter. This time, Simms’ pass to Alstott resulted in a first down on the Panthers’ 11-yard line. The Bucs would up scoring a touchdown on that drive. Alstott rushed the ball four times for two yards and caught two passes for 20 yards. He also dropped a pass in the flat.
Bucs RB Michael Pittman caught three passes for 20 yards and was pretty effective in terms of picking up pass rushers in the offensive backfield. He rushed two times for one yard.
*Tampa Bay rushed for 114 yards on 36 carries (3.2 avg.) vs. Carolina.
Ike Hilliard might have had his best game as a Buc on Sunday. He caught four passes in the first half, including two key grabs on third downs that picked up first downs for the Bucs. In the third quarter, Hilliard caught a short pass from Simms and made a nice spin move to elude the tackle and gain 12 yards on the third-and-11 play. Hilliard caught a team-leading five passes for 32 yards on Sunday.
Michael Clayton continued to struggle on Sunday when he dropped a pass from Simms that would have gone for a 7-yard gain in the first quarter. However, Clayton came up big in the second quarter on third-and-8 when he ran a slant pattern and bobbled Simms’ pass before hauling it in for a 12-yard gain and a first down. That play put the Bucs in field goal range. It was also Clayton’s only catch of the game.
Bucs WR Edell Shepherd was called for a false start in the second quarter. That penalty put the Bucs in a third-and-10 situation and ultimately caused them to punt with good field position. He did not catch a pass vs. the Panthers.
*Seven of Tampa Bay’s 17 first downs came via the passing game.
Bucs TE Anthony Becht did a decent job of blocking on the perimeter for Williams. He did not catch a pass on Sunday.
*The Bucs produced 247 yards of offense vs. the Panthers.
*Tampa Bay’s offense had an average starting field position of the 39-yard line vs. Carolina.
Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan led the attack in the trenches and played an outstanding game vs. the run. Hovan got great penetration and disrupted several plays. He was called for two penalties, but his positives by far outweighed those two negatives. In the second quarter, Hovan stuffed Panthers RB DeShaun Foster in the backfield for a loss. He came up huge in the third quarter by stuffing RB Stephen Davis for no gain on third-and-2. The Panthers turned the ball over on downs one play later after defensive end Greg Spires stuffed Davis short of the first down marker. Hovan led the defensive linemen with five tackles while Spires notched one on Sunday.
Under tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland left the game with a pulled hamstring in the second quarter. He didn’t return and was replaced by DT Jon Bradley, who performed well. However, neither McFarland nor Bradley recorded a tackle on Sunday.
Backup DL Ellis Wyms was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty near the end of the first quarter. That play gave the Panthers a first down. But two plays later, Wyms made up for that mistake by sacking Panthers QB Jake Delhomme and forcing him to fumble. While the Panthers recovered the loose ball, Wyms’ play forced them to punt. He finished the game with two tackles and a sack.
For the second time this season, Bucs DE Simeon Rice did not record a tackle or sack vs. Panthers left tackle Travelle Wharton. However, Rice sustained a much better pass rush this time around and pressured Delhomme on a few occasions despite facing several double teams. Rice was called for a false start on a third-and-7 play in the third quarter.
*Tampa Bay’s defense held Carolina’s offense to 276 yards on Sunday.
*Tampa Bay held Carolina to 82 yards on 20 carries (4.1 avg.).
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber had a shaky start by allowing Panthers WR Steve Smith to haul in a 23-yard pass on the opening series of the game. Barber took a bad angle while attempting to tackle Smith, who capitalized on Barber’s mistake. But Carolina’s opening drive ended with a 43-yard missed field goal by Panthers kicker John Kasay. The missed field goal swung the field position and momentum in the Bucs’ favor. In the third quarter, Barber took a terrible angle on Davis’ 20-yard scamper up the left sideline. However, Barber made several clutch plays during Sunday’s game. In addition to making a few nice open-field tackles, Barber killed a Panthers drive that had reached the Bucs’ 7-yard line in the fourth quarter by batting a Delhomme pass intended for WR Ricky Proehl in the air and hauling it in for an interception, which he then returned 35 yards to the Bucs’ own 42-yard line. Barber’s pick set up Tampa Bay’s 10-play, 58-yard scoring drive that was capped off by Williams’ second touchdown run of the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Barber made a dent in the record books by sacking Delhomme. That quarterback takedown was the 20th of Barber’s career, making him the first defensive back to record 20 interceptions and 20 sacks over the course of a career. Barber notched six tackles, one sack, one interception and one pass defensed on Sunday.
Bucs CB Brian Kelly was solid in terms of tackling in the open field and led all defensive backs with seven tackles. He was also impressive in pass coverage, breaking up a deep pass intended for Smith down the right sideline in the second quarter.
Strong safety Jermaine Phillips was blitzed early and often, and he did a phenomenal job near the line of scrimmage. Phillips made two key tackles behind the line of scrimmage on Foster in the first half. He came up with another big tackle on Foster at the start of the third quarter, and his explosive hit rendered Foster unavailable for most of the second half due to a shoulder injury. Phillips also made a touchdown-saving tackle on Smith’s 60-yard reception in the third quarter. The Panthers eventually had to settle for a field goal after that drive stalled in Bucs territory. Phillips recorded five tackles on Sunday.
Bucs FS Dexter Jackson’s gamble to try and intercept a pass intended for Smith in the third quarter didn’t pay off after Smith came up with the grab and avoided Jackson’s tackle for a 60-yard gain down to the Tampa Bay 19-yard line. Luckily for Jackson, the Bucs defense held the Panthers to a field goal on that drive. Jackson recorded three tackles vs. the Panthers.
Backup S Will Allen returned to action after missing several games with a knee injury. He made the hit of the game in the second quarter by drilling Smith with his shoulder on a third-and-9 pass thrown across the middle of the field by Delhomme. Allen led with his shoulder and crushed Smith, leaving the Panthers’ star receiver on the ground for a few moments and then the sideline for a few plays. It also forced the Panthers to punt. Allen recorded one tackle and one pass breakup on Sunday.
*The Panthers converted just 2-of-11 (18 percent) third downs into first downs on Sunday.
In the fourth quarter, Panthers PR Steve Smith broke off a 44-yard return after Ryan Nece, Barrett Ruud and Torrie Cox missed tackles. That return put the Panthers on the Bucs’ 35-yard line.
Bucs PR Mark Jones had an impressive 31-yard return in the second quarter but got tripped up by Panthers P Josh Baker, who was the only player standing in Jones’ way of scoring a touchdown. However, Jones’ big punt return allowed the Bucs to put together a 12-play, 44-yard drive together that ended with a field goal. Jones averaged 16.3 yards per return.
Tampa Bay K Matt Bryant (hamstring) started Sunday’s game and came up big late in the second quarter by drilling a 34-yard field goal, which put the Bucs up 10-0 at halftime. In the third quarter, Bryant capped off an 11-play, 42-yard drive with a 36-yard field goal.
Bucs KR Edell Shepherd averaged 15 yards per attempt and had a long of 20 yards.
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s unit did an outstanding job of shutting down the Panthers’ ground attack and covering WR Steve Smith, who caught five passes for 105 yards, most of which came on his 60-yard reception in the second half. Kiffin’s decision to play Jermaine Phillips near the line of scrimmage proved to be genius, and players like Chris Hovan and Ronde Barber helped the defense limit Carolina’s offense to just 10 points.
*The Bucs were penalized seven times for 50 yards on Sunday.
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