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QUARTERBACKS:
For the second straight week, Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms led the Bucs to a come-from-behind win, this time over the Atlanta Falcons.

Simms did a nice job managing Sunday’s game. Most of his success via the passing game came on play-action passes and bootlegs. In the first quarter, Simms faked a handoff and rolled out to his left, where he found rookie tight end Alex Smith for an 18-yard gain that put the Bucs on the Falcons’ 18-yard line. That play was the most important one of Tampa Bay’s seven-play, 66-yard drive, which ended with a 31-yard field goal. In the second quarter, Simms found Smith again off a bootleg, this time for a 19-yard gain to the Falcons’ 34-yard line. That play eventually allowed the Bucs to kick another field goal, which put them up 13-0. Although Simms managed the game well, he and the Bucs offense failed to convert a third down into a first down in the first half, which spoiled great field position throughout the first two quarters.

Tampa Bay’s inability to convert third downs into first downs allowed Atlanta to regain its composure and score 17 unanswered points against a tired Bucs defense, which couldn’t get itself off the field on third downs. With the Falcons having all of the momentum, there was a lot of pressure on Simms and the Bucs to respond early in the third quarter, and respond they did. Simms started Tampa Bay’s rally by hitting wide receiver Michael Clayton for a 26-yard gain to Atlanta’s 34-yard line. That play was the first third down the Bucs converted into a first down, but it wouldn’t be the last. The Bucs finished that seven-play, 69-yard drive off by having fullback Mike Alstott score from 1-yard out. That drive and score gave the Bucs a 20-17 lead over the Falcons. Tampa Bay appeared to be in great position to take the lead in the fourth quarter after Atlanta had tied the game with a field goal. The Bucs started the drive at their own 40-yard line because the Falcons’ kickoff went out of bounds. But Simms’ pass to TE Anthony Becht was snatched out of the air by Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking, who returned the ball to midfield. Atlanta drove down the field in 10 plays and scored a touchdown off of the turnover to take a 27-20 lead.

But Simms bounced back big from the turnover on the ensuing drive when he hit WR Michael Clayton for a 14-yard gain and first down to the Falcons’ 32-yard line. Simms’ next completion went to Becht for a 12-yard gain and another first down. Simms did a great job of keeping his composure in the pocket and avoiding the rush all game long. That’s exactly what he did on a third-and-4 play in the fourth quarter when he dumped off a pass to running back Cadillac Williams for a much-needed first down. That play set up Williams’ 9-yard touchdown run a few plays later, which tied the game at 27 all.

With the exception of the interception he threw in the fourth quarter, Simms did a nice job of managing the offense on Sunday. He made plays when he needed to late in the game and played a big part in Tampa Bay’s come-from-behind win over Atlanta.

*Simms completed 11-of-19 (57.8 percent) passes for 118 yards and tossed one interception and no touchdown passes.

GRADE: B


RUNNING BACKS:
Bucs rookie RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams returned to form Sunday and played an integral role in his team’s 30-27 win over the Falcons. Williams gave the Bucs momentum early when he broke off a 30-yard run on the first offensive play of the game. That great explosive run gave the Bucs the ball on the Falcons’ 49-yard line. In addition to that big run, 15 more yards were added on the end of the play when Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall was called for a 15-yard personal foul penalty, which put the Bucs on the Falcons’ 34-yard line. Tampa Bay eventually ended that drive with a Matt Bryant 31-yard field goal, which put the Bucs up 3-0. The Bucs’ inability to convert third downs into first downs in the first half prevented Williams from building on his 30-yard run. However, he broke off a 16-yard run to the Falcons’ 12-yard line in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Williams picked up a critical first down on a third-and-4 play. A few plays later, Williams proved to be a valuable pass catcher when he hauled in a short pass from Simms and maneuvered his way past defenders and over the first down marker. That reception put the Bucs on the Falcons’ 9-yard line. From there, Cadillac finished what he had started by taking the handoff from Simms and bouncing off the left side of the offensive line for a 9-yard touchdown run, which tied the game at 27-27. Williams finished the game with 19 carries for 116 yards (6.1 avg.) and a touchdown along with three catches for 13 yards.

Bucs fullback Mike Alstott broke off a long run in the second quarter, but that great play was negated by an illegal formation penalty. On Tampa Bay’s opening drive of the third quarter, Alstott leaped from the 2-yard line to punch the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, which answered the Falcons’ 17-0 run. Perhaps Alstott’s biggest play of the game came when he wasn’t carrying the football. Late in the fourth quarter, the “A-Train” made a critical lead block to open up the hole for Williams’ 9-yard touchdown run. Alstott carried the ball four times for eight yards vs. the Falcons.

Backup RB Michael Pittman broke off a 9-yard run on the opening drive of the third quarter. That run put the Bucs on the Falcons’ 2-yard line and helped to set up Alstott’s score.

Backup FB Jameel Cook dropped a pass from Simms late in the fourth quarter.

*Tampa Bay rushed 27 times for 140 yards (5.2 avg.) and two touchdowns vs. Atlanta.

GRADE: A-


WIDE RECEIVERS:

One of the main reasons why Tampa Bay had trouble converting third downs was because of its receivers’ inability to get separation from Atlanta’s defenders. In fact, for the first time this season, Bucs superstar WR Joey Galloway was held without a catch on Sunday.

However, WR Michael Clayton, who was questionable heading into Sunday’s game in Atlanta with a bone bruise on his leg, made a couple of clutch plays to keep the chains moving. In the third quarter, Clayton hauled in a pass from Simms on third down for a 26-yard gain. That play was Tampa Bay’s first third down conversion of the game and put the Bucs offense on the Falcons’ 34-yard line. Clayton, who also did a nice job of blocking, hauled in three passes for 48 yards (16.0 avg.).

Receivers Ike Hilliard and Edell Shepherd barely saw the field as the Bucs ran mostly two-tight end formations.

*The Bucs converted 2-of-8 (25 percent) of their third downs vs. the Falcons.

GRADE: C-


TIGHT ENDS:
With Tampa Bay’s receivers struggling to get open, Bucs rookie TE Alex Smith proved to be one of Simms’ favorite targets on Sunday. Simms hit Smith for an 18-yard gain off a bootleg in the first quarter. That reception gave the Bucs the ball on the Falcons’ 18-yard line and eventually led to a field goal. In the second quarter, Smith caught a 19-yard pass from Simms. That play helped to set up another field goal for the Bucs. Smith did a decent job blocking and hauled in three passes for 43 yards.

Veteran TE Anthony Becht wasn’t used as a pass catcher until the fourth quarter, but the first pass that was thrown his way was intercepted by Falcons LB Keith Brooking and returned to midfield. However, Becht came up big on the next drive when he caught a 12-yard pass from Simms. Becht left the game due to a leg injury late in the fourth quarter.

GRADE: B


OFFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay’s offensive line deserves a game ball for its effort and production on Sunday. This group played physical up front and frustrated Atlanta’s front seven, which was apparent by all of the extracurricular activity by the Falcons defenders during the first half.

Not only did this unit establish the running game and lead the way for the Bucs to rush for 140 yards on 27 carries, it provided a very comfortable pocket for Simms to throw out of all game long. In fact, Simms wasn’t sacked once on Sunday, and only one penalty was committed by the offensive line (a false start on Mahan).

Tampa Bay’s interior linemen – guards Dan Buenning and Sean Mahan, and center John Wade – deserve a lot of credit for opening up holes in the running game, and tackles Anthony Davis and Kenyatta Walker did a masterful job holding off Atlanta defensive ends Patrick Kerney and Jonathan Babineaux.

*Tampa Bay produced 258 yards vs. Atlanta on Sunday.

GRADE: A-


DEFENSIVE LINE:
Tampa Bay’s defensive line did a nice job of getting after Atlanta QB Michael Vick early, but the Bucs defense struggled mightily to get itself off the field from the middle of the second quarter on.

The Bucs were aided by the Falcons’ sloppy play in the first half. In fact, the Falcons were called for seven penalties, six of which were accepted, in the first half, and those infractions hindered Atlanta’s efforts offensively.

Bucs under tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland sacked Vick in the first quarter after the elusive signal caller tripped and fell near his own goal line. Vick was also injured on the play and left the game briefly. On third-and-22 from their own 1-yard line, the Falcons surprisingly had backup QB Matt Schaub drop back to pass in the back of his own end zone, and defensive end Simeon Rice sacked him and forced him to fumble, which allowed McFarland to recover the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown, which put the Bucs up 10-0. McFarland finished Sunday’s game with three tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery.

Rice forced Schaub to fumble by beating Falcons left tackle Kevin Schaffer. On the next series, Rice batted down a pass from Vick that was intended for WR Michael Jenkins, who was open for a first down. In the second quarter, Rice applied pressure on Vick on a fourth-and-8 play. Vick started to trip before throwing an incomplete pass, which led to a turnover on downs. Tampa Bay didn’t get enough pressure on Vick in the second half, which allowed the Falcons to continue to move the chains. While Rice still got after Vick, it wasn’t consistent. Still, Rice, who recorded two tackles, had a solid game.

Nose tackle Chris Hovan did a great job of breaking through double teams to disrupt things in Atlanta’s offensive backfield, especially in the first half. Hovan recorded three tackles on Sunday.

Left end Greg Spires, who was questionable heading into this game with a shoulder injury, quietly recorded six tackles, which led all Bucs defensive linemen.

Bucs defensive lineman Ellis Wyms was called for a personal foul (late hit on the quarterback) penalty on Atlanta’s final drive of the game. That penalty gave the Falcons the ball on their own 40-yard line. Wyms recorded two tackles. Backup DL Dewayne White saw a significant amount of action and added three tackles.

*Atlanta produced 443 yards of total offense vs. Tampa Bay’s No. 2-ranked defense on Sunday.

GRADE: B


LINEBACKERS:
Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks came up huge with just over one minute remaining in Sunday’s game when he blitzed and leaped over RB Warrick Dunn and into Vick, which caused the quarterback to fumble the football. That play allowed MLB Shelton Quarles to recover the ball on the Falcons’ 34-yard line and helped to set up the game-winning field goal. Replays showed that Dunn might have actually caused the fumble, but there’s no doubt that Brooks’ presence in the backfield disrupted the play. Brooks notched eight tackles, one sack and one forced fumble on Sunday. Things got so bad for the defense, which allowed the Falcons to score on five straight drives, that the coaching staff had to start making substitutions in order to give players breathers. Bucs LB Marquis Cooper replaced Brooks briefly in the fourth quarter, and he notched two tackles.

Although he led the defense with nine tackles, Quarles was involved in several big plays for the Falcons. Near the end of the second quarter, Quarles and safety Jermaine Phillips allowed Falcons rookie WR Roddy White to haul in a 54-yard pass on third-and-10, and that play eventually led to a touchdown, which made the score 13-10 at halftime in favor of the Bucs. Toward the end of the third quarter, Quarles allowed Falcons RB T.J. Duckett to catch a 19-yard pass from a scrambling Vick on third down. That play gave the Falcons a first down and the ball on the Bucs’ 40-yard line. That particular drive eventually led to a field goal. On Atlanta’s second to last drive of the game, Quarles missed a tackle on Dunn, who turned a short pass into an 11-yard gain. However, Quarles wound up making up for those mishaps by recovering the fumble forced by Brooks’ blitz and sack. That turnover gave the Bucs the ball on the Falcons’ 34-yard line, which helped them kick the game-winning field goal.

Weakside LB Ryan Nece notched two tackles and played well vs. the run.

With Tampa Bay struggling to get itself off the field on third downs, Atlanta’s offense managed to put itself in some short down-and-distance situations. Fatigue and some poor tackling and angles allowed the Falcons to rush for 150 yards on 36 carries (4.2 avg.).

*The Falcons dominated the time of possession in Sunday’s game, 36:02 to 23:58.

GRADE: C


SECONDARY:
Tampa Bay’s defense couldn’t get itself off the field in the second half, and Atlanta made the Bucs pay for it. The Falcons converted 11-of-17 (65 percent) of their third down tries, and those third down conversions played a big part in Atlanta’s ability to score five straight times at one point in Sunday’s game.

The Bucs secondary was guilty of giving up some big third down plays to the Falcons. Strong safety Jermaine Phillips had what might have been his roughest outing as a Buccaneer. In the second quarter, Phillips allowed Falcons rookie WR Roddy White to haul in a 35-yard pass to the Bucs’ 29-yard line. That play eventually set up a field goal for the Falcons. On Atlanta’s final drive of the second quarter, Phillips and Quarles allowed White to catch a pass from Vick for a 54-yard gain on third-and-10. That pass play put the Falcons on the Bucs’ 27-yard line and eventually led to a touchdown, which made the score 13-10 at halftime. In the third quarter, Falcons TE Alge Crumpler hauled in a 20-yard pass from Vick to the Bucs’ 30-yard line, and Phillips was in on coverage. That play set up Crumpler’s touchdown a few plays later, which put the Falcons up 17-13. At the start of the fourth quarter, Phillips allowed WR Brian Finneran to catch a pass at Tampa Bay’s 4-yard line, which set up first and goal. However, the Bucs eventually forced the Falcons to settle for a field goal, which tied the game at 20 all. Late in the fourth quarter, Phillips was called for pass interference deep down the sideline, but a holding penalty on the Falcons negated both calls. Phillips finished the game with four tackles.

In the second quarter, Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber allowed Falcons WR Michael Jenkins to catch a 21-yard pass from Vick, and that play put the Falcons on the Bucs’ 35-yard line. Two plays later, Barber tipped a pass and Phillips nearly intercepted it but couldn’t come up with the pick. In the third quarter, Finneran got separation from Barber and hauled in a 20-yard pass from Vick on third-and-7. The Falcons capped off that 10-play, 73-yard drive with Crumpler’s touchdown, which put the Falcons up 17-13. Barber recorded four tackles and one pass defensed.

Bucs CB Brian Kelly nearly intercepted Vick on the sideline on a third-and-2 play near the end of the third quarter, but he couldn’t come up with the pick. Even if he had intercepted the ball, a penalty was called on CB Juran Bolden, which gave the Falcons a first down. In the fourth quarter, Kelly allowed Jenkins to haul in a pass on third down to the Bucs’ 21-yard line. A few plays later on third-and-goal, Kelly slipped after the ball was snapped, which allowed Jenkins to get open in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown, which put the Falcons up 27-20. Kelly finished Sunday’s game with three tackles.

Bolden played a part in Tampa Bay’s physical play on defense in the first quarter when he drilled Falcons White after a five-yard catch. That hard hit forced White’s helmet to fly off. Near the end of the second quarter, Bolden nearly intercepted Vick by jumping a slant pass. Near the end of the third quarter, Bolden was called for holding on a third-and-2 play, which gave the Falcons a first down. In the fourth quarter, Bolden allowed White to haul in a 12-yard pass from Vick for a first down to the Bucs’ 35-yard line. Bolden recorded three tackles and one forced fumble vs. his former team on Sunday.

Kalvin Pearson started in place of free safety Will Allen. Pearson actually played well before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be cramping. Rookie S Donte Nicholson took his place and defended a pass to Crumpler in the end zone that prevented the score. Two plays later, the Falcons had to kick a field goal, which made the score 20-20. Pearson returned to the game and allowed Jenkins to haul in a pass to the Bucs’ 41-yard line on the final drive of the game for the Falcons. Pearson recorded seven tackles vs. the Falcons.

*Vick, who completed 21-of-38 passes (55 percent) for 306 yards and two touchdowns, spread the ball around to seven different receivers, including Jenkins (five catches for 69 yards and a TD), Crumpler (five catches for 49 yards and a TD) and White (four catches for 108 yards). The Bucs failed to intercept Vick on Sunday.

GRADE: D


SPECIAL TEAMS:
Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant was 3-of-3 on field goal attempts. His first field goal came in the first quarter on a 31-yard attempt. His second one came in the second quarter from 45 yards out. His third kick turned out to be the charm when Bryant drilled a 45-yard field goal with less than one minute remaining in the game to win the contest for the Bucs. On the ensuing kickoff, Bryant was called for a late hit on Falcons return man Allen Rossum, but the Falcons had been called for an illegal block in the back, which caused both penalties to offset. Bryant came up huge on Sunday.

Punter Josh Bidwell averaged 50 yards on three attempts, and he pinned the Falcons inside their 20-yard line twice. Bidwell’s longest punt was a 59-yarder.

Cornerback Blue Adams was called for an illegal block in the back on Mark Jones’ punt return in the first quarter. It was a horrible call.

Edell Shepherd returned kickoffs for the Bucs and averaged 15.7 yards on four attempts.

Fullback Jameel Cook was flagged for being offsides on a kickoff in the third quarter.

GRADE: A-


COACHING:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s offense came out determined to run the football vs. the Falcons, and run it they did. The offensive coaching staff did a nice job of getting the offensive line prepared for this game. Last year, the Bucs surrendered seven sacks to the Falcons en route to a loss at The Georgia Dome. On Sunday, the Bucs didn’t allow a single quarterback takedown. Gruden’s playcalling put QB Chris Simms in a position to succeed and lead the Bucs back from a fourth quarter deficit. Gruden’s best call came in the first half after Vick scrambled for 10 yards to pick up a first down. Gruden and the Bucs coaching staff challenged the play, claiming the Falcons had 12 players on the field. After further review, it turned out Gruden and Co. were right, and the play was overturned. That was great awareness on the coaching staff’s part.

Most importantly, Gruden deserves credit for keeping his players in control when things were getting out of hand in the first quarter. The Falcons were called for seven penalties (six accepted) in the first quarter, including several personal foul calls that came after plays had ended. It appeared as though Atlanta was attempting to bate Tampa Bay’s players into committing stupid penalties, but to their credit, the Bucs players didn’t bite. The Bucs were penalized eight times for 55 yards while the Falcons were called for 11 penalties for 87 yards.

Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s troops did a nice job of containing Vick, who rushed for just 17 yards. Now Kiffin has to sure up his unit’s third down defense, which left much to be desired on Sunday.

GRADE: B


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