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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.
Bucs rookie RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams made several tough runs for positive yardage throughout Sunday’s game in Carolina. He played an integral role in keeping the chains moving by getting positive yardage after the initial contact. Williams had several big runs on Sunday, with one of them coming in the first quarter when he broke a tackle in the backfield and ran 14 yards for a touchdown, which put the Bucs up 7-0. That run capped off an eight-play, 54-yard drive. Williams continued to make some tough runs in the second half by picking up a first down on a third-and-1 run in the third quarter. On the very next play, Williams broke off a 9-yard run. In the fourth quarter, Cadillac broke off a 15-yard scamper that put the Bucs in scoring range. The rookie rusher pretty much sealed the win for the Bucs on a third-and-9 play in the fourth quarter by knifing his way into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown, which put the Bucs up 20-3. Williams finished the game with 29 carries for 112 yards (3.9 avg.) and two touchdowns. He also caught two passes for four yards.
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.
Bucs WR Joey Galloway didn’t have a great game and uncharacteristically dropped a few passes, but he still came up with some big catches on Sunday. Galloway’s first drop came in the first quarter on a third-and-3 play when Simms threw a perfect strike down the right sideline for him. The pass went off of Galloway’s hands and fell to the ground. It looked as though Galloway lost the ball in the bright sun. However, Simms went back to Galloway on the next series by hitting him for a 17-yard strike on a third-and-10 play. That pass and catch put the Bucs on the Panthers’ 28-yard line. On the next play, Simms hooked up with Galloway again by completing an 11-yard pass to him. Both of those catches helped to set up Williams’ 14-yard touchdown run. Galloway dropped another pass in the second quarter that would have probably given the Bucs offense a first down.
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.
The Bucs used a lot of max protect sets that proved to be effective in terms of holding off the Panthers’ potentially potent pass rush. Bucs rookie TE Alex Smith might have had his best outing as a blocker vs. the Panthers. He did a nice job of helping to hold off Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers. Smith also caught three passes for 11 yards.
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.
Although the Panthers were without defensive end Mike Rucker, who was nursing an injury, the Bucs offensive line deserves a lot of credit for turning the tide and winning the battles in the trenches more often than not. The O-line opened up enough holes for Williams to run through, and it gave Simms a comfortable pocket to throw out of throughout most of the contest. Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker played a solid game vs. defensive end Julius Peppers with the exception of allowing him to sack Simms on a third-and-7 play in the third quarter. Tampa Bay’s offensive line nearly played a penalty-free football game, with rookie left guard Dan Buenning getting called for a false start in the third quarter.
*Tampa Bay’s offense had an average starting field position of the 39-yard line vs. Carolina.
After allowing the Panthers to run the ball down their throats on the opening drive, the Bucs defense settled down and turned in a strong performance vs. the run and the pass.
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 LBs Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ryan Nece had a rough outing in terms of tackling on the open series, but this unit rebounded on the next series and never looked back. Quarles led the way with a team-leading nine tackles while Brooks notched seven takedowns and a pass breakup. Nece recorded two tackles on Sunday. All three players showed good awareness, pass coverage and gap control. Their tackling technique was sound after the first series of the game. As a result, Panthers RB DeShaun Foster produced just 46 yards on 14 carries (3.3 avg.) while RB Stephen Davis rushed four times for 23 yards.
*Tampa Bay held Carolina to 82 yards on 20 carries (4.1 avg.).
Tampa Bay’s defense refused to let Carolina QB Jake Delhomme get the best of them on Sunday. The Bucs only allowed Delhomme to complete 21-of-33 (63.6 percent) passes for 220 yards, and he tossed no touchdowns and one interception.
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.
Bucs punter Josh Bidwell was outstanding in the first half. He pinned the Panthers deep in their own territory in the first quarter, and the Bucs offense managed to score a touchdown once they got the ball back on their own 46-yard line. Bidwell came up big again in the second quarter by pinning the Panthers on their own 13-yard line. Bidwell punted six times and pinned two of those attempts inside the 20-yard line. His longest punt was a 58-yarder.
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.
Tampa Bay called a somewhat conservative game plan, but it might have been his best this season. Gruden kept the Carolina defense off balance by mixing up running and passing plays and getting the right matchups by using motion at the line of scrimmage. One could tell that the Bucs offense was confident in the game plan, and the players, particularly the offensive linemen and QB Chris Simms, executed it well on Sunday.
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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